Descriptive Nonfiction Genre

Definition – Examples – How to Write

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Descriptive Nonfiction Definition

Descriptive Nonfiction, also called Creative Nonfiction, is a type of nonfiction that uses all five senses to help the reader get a visual of what the writer is trying to describe. Sensory details, rich imagery, and figurative language, while also attempting, in good faith, to provide accurate information regarding a real-world topic, are methods used to achieve descriptive nonfiction.


Examples of Descriptive Nonfiction include:

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
  • Hiroshima by John Hershey
  • The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Childhood among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

How to Write in the Descriptive Nonfiction Genre

So how do we approach writing Descriptive Nonfiction as a literary genre? 

  1. Make sure you keep your facts accurate. Descriptive nonfiction is a difficult line to tow in that you are writing about some things that you can’t possibly know about, and some things that we absolutely know every detail about. Embellish the little character moments in the spaces between and stay true to the actual facts of the nonfiction you are trying to portray.
  2. Play with the point of view, person, and tense. If you are feeling too boxed in by having to stick to things that are factually correct, perhaps you could take another tactic. Shifting point of views, writing in an opposite tense than what you’re used to, or even shifting from first to third person, or vice versa, could give you the room you need to make the story more interesting for you and for your reader.
  3. Lean heavily into the emotion of the piece.  Many of the stories that we want to tell carry heavy emotions with them. Leaning into those emotions can help to shine a light on the issues of the time in a closer, more meaningful way as the reader sinks deeper into the character’s journey.
  4. Use your literary techniques. In a piece of descriptive nonfiction, it is especially important to rely on your literary techniques, such as metaphors, allegory, imagery, and extended metaphors to tell the larger story. Think long and hard about what the piece means to you and what you want it to convey to the reader. You never want to hit those things too bluntly. Instead, use your literary techniques and create the sense of these things within your reader as they follow your character through the story of their life.

Next Week

Next week, we are going to continue our journey into nonfiction by taking a closer look into Persuasive Nonfiction, revisiting its definition, looking further into examples, and talking about how you might write your own Persuasive Nonfictions.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your favorite nonfiction book?
  2. Do you have a favorite type of nonfiction subgenre?
  3. What genre is your favorite to read in, and do you write in the same genre or a different one?
  4. What is the most important reason writers should be aware of genre and its conventions?
  5. What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?

Leave your answers in the comments section for this post!

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