How to Write Literary Nonfiction

By on Jun 17, 2014 in Non-Fiction

how to write literary nonfiction

Literary nonfiction is a little difficult to define. Also called creative nonfiction, narrative nonfiction and literary journalism, this genre is essentially about describing the real world in a compelling and interesting manner.

It is a broad and expansive genre that encompasses different types of writing such as memoirs, personal essays, lyric essays, literary journalism, articles, and even research papers. The purpose of literary nonfiction is to make true stories and nonfiction content as interesting and engaging as possible by using literary devices. Settings, character development, tone and voice are all essential tools that are common in both literary nonfiction and fiction. However, in literary nonfiction, these tools are used to enhance the real world instead of a fantasy world.

Literary or creative nonfiction has recently gained in popularity among magazine and book publishers due several highly popular literary nonfictions books released

Some of the ways you can begin your literary nonfiction adventure are:

1. Read literary nonfiction

The best way to understand the unique world of literary nonfiction books is to read as many of them as possible. Blending creative writing with real facts is an art which needs some perfecting. Reading some of the greats in this area can help you to achieve this fine balance. There are many wonderful nonfiction books which are a far cry from the typical dull, dry, and fact-based nonfiction books. Some examples of popular literary nonfiction books are: The Glass Castle, Unbroken, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, The Botany of Desire, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and Eat, Pray, Love.

2. Writing memoirs

Memoir writing is a great way to learn to use the creative tools to enhance a real story. Not to be confused with autobiographies, memoirs are lively and interesting stories of certain personal experiences, events, phases or stages in your life. A memoir can even be about people or pets who have made a difference in your life. For example, the wildly popular Marley and Me: Life with the world’s craziest dog is a moving true story of a journalist and his crazy but adorable Labrador. The story revolves around the author’s personal life, but the theme of the book is the pet and his influence on the author’s household.

3. Personal essays

A personal essay is similar to a memoir in some ways; however it focuses more on you, your experiences and thoughts, and your opinions. A single topic in your life (an event, an opinion, a viewpoint) is usually the theme of the personal essay. Also, while the memoir style is often narrative, the personal essay is usually non-narrative and takes on a more flowing and descriptive style.

4. Literary journalism

If looking within and writing about yourself makes you uncomfortable, there is a wealth of other topics to write about. Literary journalism involves writing about any actual public event, a person, or even an interview in a creative and narrative or descriptive manner. It essentially means that this is a form of journalism where you are not required to be objective or restrain yourself to reporting the facts. You can include your opinions, use personal examples to illustrate a point and employ any other tools you can think of to make the article engaging and interesting.

Image credit: Ken Hawkins on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

CS Rajan is a freelance writer who loves to write on various topics, and is currently working on her first novel.

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