Narrative nonfiction combines the authenticity of nonfiction reporting with the writing style of fictional stories.Think of newspapers meeting novels – written in a style designed to both entertain and inform.
While most often used to describe a modern genre of writing, we can apply similar methods (intriguing storyline and a character arc) to the art of oral storytelling as a way to capture the listener’s attention and make your message memorable.
From keynote speeches, to telling stories on stage, or on podcasts, this style of personal storytelling wraps real life experiences within literary techniques, and has the power to expand perspectives on important topics. Since consciousness emerged in humans we’ve been telling stories, and now is the time for you to tell your most impactful story.
nar-uh-tiv – noun
A spoken or written account of connected events; a story
non-fik-shun – noun
Narrative prose based on facts, real events, real people
So what type of writing is considered to be narrative nonfiction? Well, that depends on who you talk to, and the lines have been blurred by formats – especially podcasts – that blend in more than one.
Common types include investigative journalism, biography, personal essay, memoir, autobiography, even food writing and travel writing. (this includes aspects of creative nonfiction and the new journalism)
The story is based on just facts, or the facts as you remember them – nothing is made up – though you will encounter situations where an author or speaker has crossed this line and thinks it’s okay – it’s not.
So if you want your story to have impact, to change opinion, or to inspire action, don’t embellish the facts or create scenes that never happened. If you want tell such stories, that’s fine, Hollywood does such things all the time, just don’t call it narrative nonfiction.
So what about that line, “the facts as you remember them”. It can be a tough one. So important, for many reasons, but not an easy target to hit as our memory is not perfect, and over time, it’s even less so.
Which is why it’s vital to do your research. If it’s a personal story, ask your friends and family what they remember. If it’s work related, run your story by colleagues. If there are historical facts, they need to be double checked. Scientific results or statistics, same thing.
Assume that anything you write or say in public will be read or heard by thousands of people and at least one of them will know aspects of your topic well and call you on your mistakes.
I’ve worked with a lot of scientists, professors and business leaders. Very smart people. Still it’s common to find errors and omissions in their drafts that need fixing, but it’s worth the time to get it right.