What's Your Story Part VI: Narrative Nonfiction

Courtesy of University of Illinois Library from the Commons on Flickr

What's Your Story Part VI: Narrative Nonfiction

Blog post by Chris
Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reading fiction is not for everyone. There are a great many who prefer news, history, and biographies. This doesn’t preclude them from enjoying a good story – especially when the piece is narrative nonfiction. Whether or not you are familiar with the term, like with epistolary novels covered in Part IV, you have likely read one.

Many works of Narrative Nonfiction have become mainstays on the New York Times Bestseller List and increasingly being adapted for both the movie and TV screen. A few recent examples include: Hidden Figures, The Lost City of Z, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

So what makes a story narrative nonfiction and why should you read this genre?

Also known as Creative Nonfiction, Literary Nonfiction, Long-Form Journalism, or Narrative Journalism, this storytelling device utilizes in-depth research to set scenes and develop characters to tell historically-based tales. Unlike a traditional journalistic piece, which declares its main idea upfront, narrative nonfiction takes the reader on a journey of discovery.

It is my opinion that narrative nonfiction is the great crossover genre. If we learned history through this kind of storytelling in school, I would have actually paid attention. If you love reading fiction this won’t feel much different. If you love reading nonfiction, it covers the factual elements. Simply put, the reason to read narrative nonfiction is that it’s a true story that reads like a novel.

As you gear up for the winter break from work, school, or just as something to escape the family, consider taking a ride through history.

Here are some suggestions for your next road trip:

If you like mysteries try...

In Cold Blood, Devil in the White City, Midnight Assassin (also If you like local history)

If you like science try...

The Poisoners Handbook, The Disappearing Spoon

If you like inspirational stories try...

Unbroken (comes in a version for youth), Behind the Beautiful Forevers

If you like sports try...

The Boys in the Boat (comes in version for youth), Outcasts United (comes in a version for youth)


There are many things that divide us as humans, but there is one thing that clearly unites us: storytelling. Stories can vary by culture and method, but at the core they convey something about who we were, are, or hope to be. As cultures develop, so too do the methods in which stories are told. In this multi-part blog series, I look to highlight some of the methods of storytelling that are alternatives to the traditional novel.