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What is #Narrative #Nonfiction? #amwriting

By 31/01/2014January 4th, 2017blogging, guest post, writer, writing

Through the months of December and January, some fab writers have taken over Daily (w)rite and spoken about the art and craft of writing. Check out the posts by Suchen Christine Lim, Sarah Butler, Scott Bryson, Eeleen Lee and Suzy Vitello for some excellent discussions and tips on fiction writing.

Today, I welcome Trish Nicholson. She has a great blog, and her latest offering, Write Your Nonfiction Book: The Complete Guide to Becoming an Author is on my TBR pile. If you’re intrigued by Narrative Non-fiction, I urge you to check it out. Take it away, Trish!


Writing Your Nonfiction Book: The Complete Guide to Becoming an Author

What is Narrative Nonfiction?
I’ve noticed lately how often I write the phrase ‘applies equally to fiction and nonfiction’. Having had a book on story craft (Inside Stories for Writers and Readers) published last year, and now, a guide to writing and publishing a nonfiction book, the comparison is highlighted.

The fundamental difference, of course, is that nonfiction is not made up; it is based on verifiable facts, which provide its power to inform and influence as well as to entertain.

Because of this, the process requires careful research and planning – we cannot launch into a flight of fancy – but what of the writing craft, voice, structure, imagery?
We can’t invent, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use our imagination, and it is important that we do, because our brains have evolved to understand life around us as stories – narratives – with causes and effects creating and resolving conflicts, producing outcomes. Research into the psychology of reading confirms that our attitudes and behaviour can be changed by our emotional involvement in a story: it stimulates empathy. We understand and learn best through storytelling.

Significantly, this applies also to nonfiction that is written in a style to enlist a reader’s feelings, especially by the presence of ‘characters’ depicted in the narrative. In the US, the term ‘creative nonfiction’ describes the use of story techniques to factual situations, especially for essays and memoir, but the author is central to the composition: an event is explored through the personal experience of the writer. This may not be appropriate to all nonfiction subjects – e.g. for writing histories, biographies, text books, or documentaries with a wider focus. Here, the author may be the narrator, but his or her inner state is not the principal issue. So instead, I use the term ‘narrative nonfiction’.

Narrative nonfiction employs story craft, such as plotting to build tension, deep characterisation, and imaginative description, to present facts in a form that stimulates readers’ senses and engages them emotionally. Learning facts does not have to be a dry, mind-numbing experience. Today, publishers and readers expect to be enthralled, not bludgeoned, by information.

Although Write Your Nonfiction Book guides writers through the whole process – refining an idea, research, writing, editing, implementing publishing options, and marketing – the emphasis is on narrative style, and how to achieve reader-engagement for a wide range of nonfiction genres. And because technology allows writers from almost anywhere in the world to offer their books in the global market-place, I encourage these voices to be heard more widely by providing information that is, as far as possible, international.

Why not let the world hear your voice?


Trish Nicholson narrative non fiction

About Trish Nicholson: Dr Trish Nicholson is a writer, photographer, social anthropologist, and author of short stories, and narrative nonfiction on ethnography, travel, popular science and writing craft. Her latest titles are, Inside Stories for Writers and Readers, and Write Your Nonfiction Book: The Complete Guide to Becoming an Author. You can connect with her on Twitter, @TrishaNicholson, and follow her blog at


       As a reader, what are  some of your favorite non fiction narratives and why? If you’re a nonfiction author, what tips would you give a beginner?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • ekbhull says:

    Hi Trish! Your post provided timely information for me. I’m currently working on a narrative nonfiction book for my dissertation. My book crosses the boundaries of a few NF genres…memoir, history, and rhetoric (it’s about chocolate). It has been an interesting process bc I am not in a creative writing program.

    One of my favorite nonfiction writers is MFK Fisher. I never tire of her wit and charm.

    One of my favorite craft books is Tell it Slant.

    • Trish Nicholson says:

      Hi, thanks for your two recommendations, I’ll follow them up. I’m so glad this post came at the right time for you, and what a great topic to study. I hope you find the book helpful – the longest chapter is the one on creative writing for narrative nonfiction. Best wishes for your dissertation. We’ll maybe see it published one of these days.

  • Trish Nicholson says:

    Thanks, izlawless, glad it is helpful, best of luck with your new job. Randee, I’ve saved your list of favourite nonfiction titles – it’s a great list, thanks. Matheikal, thank you, I hope it will give confidence to many more people to have their voices heard.

  • matheikal says:

    Good that you’ve introduced this book to readers.

  • randee says:

    I love narrative nonfiction. It’s my favorite genre to read and write. In my post here, I list 14 titles I absolutely loved reading:

  • faranastus says:

    Sorry for the late response…
    I am glad you found some of my offering agreeable. Feel free to visit again.
    I must confess I am utterly new to blogging and e-publishing in general, and you may have noticed my site is still under construction.
    From what I have seen and read so far I have to say I am politely surprised, nay!, impressed by the community I seem to have found.
    A world of possibilities…

  • izlawless says:

    This was very insightful, especially for my job at a nonfiction publishing house. Great blog post!

  • Jemima Pett says:

    That was interesting and extremely helpful, thank you. It explains to me why I found editing my father’s dictated memoirs so hard that I really let them just run with what you might call ‘technical edits’. He had honed these stories he was dictating over so many years; so many gatherings of friends and interested parties had listened to them already. Thank you, it’s given me more confidence in the manuscript I’ve produced.

    • Trish Nicholson says:

      So pleased this was helpful and especially in giving you confidence. To my mind that is the most vital factor enabling us to write freely from deep within – shaping and tinkering comes later. And you make an important distinction between types of editing – in the book, I have separated ‘structural editing’, from ‘line-by-line’ editing (your ‘ technical edits’), because they are different processes reviewing different aspects. I wish you every success with your manuscript.

  • I am working on a narrative nonfiction book right now–this looks quite useful. Mine is set in a far-gone past where the best anyone can do is extrapolate based on facts (1.8 million years ago). I hope to make it interesting by writing it as a biography.

    Time will tell. Thanks for this. I’ll be looking into it.

    • Trish Nicholson says:

      What a fascinating project, Jacqui, challenging but important, also, in understanding our human heritage. As an anthropologist myself, I know much of the research material is rather dry, sometimes tortuous in trying to fill ‘gaps’ in evidence, and it fails to show life in a way we can identity with as truly human. As you probably realise, the period you have chosen is especially significant for language and social development, and you might find useful, also, my essay – From Apes to Apps: How Humans Evolved as Storytellers and Why it Matters – I wish you the very best of luck with your biography.

      • That is such an intriguing question–how’d apes evolve religion, jewelry–that sort of higher order thinking. I love the idea of storytelling. I’ve bought your ebook. Am so looking forward to reading it. Thanks, Trish!

  • Sue Uden says:

    Hello Damyanti, lovely to ‘meet’ you and thank you for hosting another inspiring and informative post by Trish. I have always deeply regretted not paying attention to history lessons in my early teens which led to a failed ‘o’ level and a big gap in my adult general knowledge. I feel sure that the droning monotonous tone of the chosen text books did nothing to inspire my learning. More positively, when I am asked for my favourite books one that always springs instantly to memory is Margaret Forster’s biography of Daphne du Maurier. I read it in ca. 1990 and have been eager to re-read it ever since. This is just one of the two pages of tributes on the inside pages:
    “Forster has the storyteller’s flair for suspense and pace, ending her chapters on emotional cliffhangers, and drawing you into the psychodrama” Guardian

    • Trish Nicholson says:

      I think we must have read the same history books, Sue. I’ve certainly learned more and been inspired by history long after finishing formal education. Margaret Forster’s biography sounds a perfect example of narrative nonfiction bringing a subject ‘alive’. I haven’t read it, but I will now, thanks for the recommendation.

  • A common vice found in writers is a love for subordinate phrases. Explaining, and adding to life, to try and gain some magic appeal. “If I could only change life, into a such a manner, people will be interested.” In fact, life is sufficient enough, without any additions. I just read an essay about hair by Marcia Aldrich. It was amazing! At first I thought, “I can’t believe I am reading this.” I then began talking with friends about it, and realized, how much I was impacted by it, The aim of every writer is to walk along side the main character and say “this is who he/she is, and this is what they do.” Life will speak for its self.

    “He (the writer) cares; therefore, if he tinkers enough with his words, we do too.” -Edward Hoagland

    • Trish Nicholson says:

      I think that quote sums it up well – it is about caring – and there is a great deal in real life to care about and on which to seek greater understanding.

  • We do learn best through storytelling. That’s why Jesus shared so many parables.

    • Trish Nicholson says:

      Hi Alex, yes, parables are an excellent example, and were likely the way early humans passed-on vital information that maintained their families and communities. We have been learning from narrated examples ever since.