If you’re reading this article, chances are you are a nonfiction writer or you hope to become a nonfiction writer. First of all, congratulations! Writing nonfiction is a great way to express yourself, inform your readers, and make an impact on readers around the world.
Just like any great endeavor, it’s crucial to be informed on what you are doing, understand the different details influencing what you are doing, and articulate the purpose behind what you’re doing. It’s one thing to say you want to write nonfiction. It’s another to know what you want to communicate and why, the type of nonfiction that will help you do so, the subgenre it belongs in, and whether you should consider taking the literary nonfiction route.
That said, in this article we discuss:
- What is the purpose of nonfiction?
- Types of creative nonfiction.
- Types of nonfiction genres.
- Types of literary nonfiction.
There are many subgenres of nonfiction, and we will discuss them in this article. However, just as there are many subgenres of nonfiction, there are varying reasons to write nonfiction. Before we dive into types of nonfiction, let’s discuss its purpose.
What is the purpose of nonfiction?
While the purpose of nonfiction is largely dependent on the individual author, simply based on the style of writing, nonfiction is written to inform. Information can be written with the core purpose of informing, or it can be written with the core purpose of expressing. Either way, nonfiction informs readers.
If you are a thought leader in a particular field, you may hope to inform your readers by writing impactful nonfiction. However, if you are a lay person and want to express your experience surrounding a particular topic, your core purpose may be to express (you will also inform your readers through your expression).
Sometimes the best way to inform readers is via self-expression.
If you wonder which is best for you, simply keep reading. We discuss types of creative nonfiction as well as nonfiction genres below.
Types of creative nonfiction
There are many types of creative nonfiction, but some include essays, memoir, autobiography, travel writing, and food writing.
Personal essays are a great way to express yourself and communicate while using your authentic voice. Think of an essay as a condensed autobiography, focused on a specific aspect, moment, or theme of your life. Your personal essay will cover the moment you feel compelled to write about, and that moment will be the central focus. When writing a personal essay, be sure to:
- Allow your voice to shine through.
- Be sure that what you write is all fact and not fiction.
- Use creative writing techniques to make your writing compelling.
Essays are a great type of creative nonfiction to start your nonfiction journey.
If you choose to write your memoir, it’s likely because you want to use your life experiences to speak to a larger theme. While an autobiography follows the individual’s life from birth to present, a memoir focuses on different life experiences that help inform the reader.
As briefly mentioned above, an autobiography focuses on the individual’s story from birth to present and is written with the intention of sharing your life story. If you choose to write your autobiography, you are likely a public figure such as a sports figure, a politician, a famous writer, or well-known in another capacity. Because of this, readers will be interested in hearing details of your life and how your experiences informed the person you are today.
If you travel a lot for work, or perhaps you are a freelance writer and travel simply because you can, travel writing may be the genre for you. Think of travel writing as a way to collect your interactions with the people you meet and the experiences you gain. This collection becomes a means to share experiences in a thought-out way. Travel writing is a great way to inform through creative means.
Travel writing is also a great way to employ the power of the senses. Because you have been to the places you write about, you can describe your experience in ways unique to your genre. You can explain the gritty feel of the sand on a particular beach, the tangy smell in the air as you walk through a market, or what it looked like to see the sunrise in person over that particular mountain. You can describe the feeling of sitting down with a cup of espresso on a busy street and striking up a conversation with a stranger. Travel writing can bring a different level of detail, and therefore realism, to your writing.
Food writing focuses on, surprise, the topic of food, and draws in many different types of writing. As you begin food writing, you may want to consider the aspects that affect food. Culture, geography, lifestyle, friendship, and agriculture are all influential factors. You could focus on the role lifestyle plays in the food we eat, how food can play a large part in a country’s culture, or inform readers on the importance agriculture plays. While food is the central topic, there are countless subtopics you can write about to support it.
Types of nonfiction genres
Just as there are many genres of writing, there are many genres of nonfiction writing. Some of the more common genres include: History, self-help, guides and how-to manuals, and philosophy.
History is an important nonfiction genre as it helps generations remember the factual accounts of what happened before. While historical fiction is a fiction genre, to be considered historical nonfiction, the facts must be accurately portrayed. While history can be recorded as simply facts, such as in a textbook, it can also be recorded through the writer’s point of view. While points of view differ according to person, when writing historical nonfiction, the facts must be the central focus.
Self-help is a largely influential nonfiction genre. Topics in self-help cover a variety of subjects, from business, to relationships, to habits, to finances, to exercise. This genre is informative but not academically focused.
Guides and how-to manuals
As a writer, if you have played the violin for twenty years, trained under some of the best violinist in the world, and performed as a guest with symphonies around the country, writing a guide on the craft of music with a focus on the violin, would be a great place for you to start. As they say, write what you know! Chandler Bolt’s book, Published: The Proven Path from Blank Page to 10,000 Copies Sold is largely a “how to” book.
Philosophy is similar to academic text but it focuses in varying areas. One is traditional philosophy, which you would find in a university’s classroom. A second type of philosophy is scientific theory, such as the work of Sir Isaac Newton. If you are a writer pursuing philosophy writing, you may choose to focus on more current philosophy, such as analyzing specific occurrences in the world today.
Types of literary nonfiction
Different forms of literary nonfiction can be used to accomplish different goals. If your goal as a writer is to share a specific experience from your life, you will choose a different literary nonfiction form than someone hoping to inform readers on historical events.
Below is a brief list of literary nonfiction forms:
A personal essay is creative writing and also falls under the literary nonfiction category. Simply by definition, a personal essay is written from your point of view. This allows you to use your own experiences, employ creative writing techniques, and express and/or inform your readers on a particular topic.
Lyrical memoir uses prose in a poetic way. Just as a memoir communicates a specific theme, lyrical memoir uses creative writing techniques to add power to the author’s voice, all while communicating a larger theme. An example of lyrical memoir is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. In her book, Angelou shares her own life experiences while pointing to a larger theme.
In narrative journalism, stories cover factual events as a journalist would, but add in narrative that creates a more engaging read. While journalists may recount specific events and take a more factual approach, narrative journalism covers similar events, but adds a twist of creative writing. Adding this type of narrative does not subtract from the facts recounted, but creates a more engaging story for readers. An example of narrative journalism is Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer and The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann.
Narrative history is a subgenre that focuses on historically accurate events, told through a story-based lens, and therefore employs different facets of creative writing. When writing narrative history it is crucial to recount the facts. In historical fiction, the author can switch details up, add a twist, create scenes and characters that did not exist, but in narrative story, every detail must be accurate. The difference between a history textbook and a narrative history book is that the narrative history is told in a story form. An example of narrative history is 12 Years a Slave: A Slave Narrative, by Solomon Northup.
Remember, just as writing fiction involves time spent learning the writing craft and following writing rules, writing nonfiction involves the same. The difference between fiction and nonfiction is that nonfiction is always based in fact. Nonfiction is by nature a real story. Whether you write nonfiction to inform your readers, or from my desire to express an experience you had, nonfiction needs to be factually correct.
As you begin this endeavor, set aside any perfectionism and simply get the words down. While nonfiction can be a difficult genre to tackle, writing is by nature a process that involves edits. Keep track of your research and drafts, employ creative writing techniques, fact-check after you have the first draft written, and enjoy the process.
When writing nonfiction, you not only get to express yourself, but you get to inform your audience on a topic that is important to you.
Now you understand creative nonfiction, the different types of nonfiction genres, as well as types of literary nonfiction.
Now it’s time to choose the type of genre that is best for your story.
After you take this assessment, sit in the quiet and ask yourself what exactly you want to write and why you want to write it. Then, get to work writing!
You’ve got this!