Narrative nonfiction is a burgeoning genre in contemporary nonfiction. Essentially, the author will create a factual work that borrows techniques from fiction, using dialogue, characterisation and action that unfolds in closely described scenes. The book might be said to have a 'plot', with a clear beginning, middle and end, although the information within it must be true and well sourced.
Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is often considered a precursor of the narrative nonfiction genre, although he preferred the term 'nonfiction novel'. More recently, Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an oft-cited and highly acclaimed example; Boo went to extreme lengths in her efforts to reconstruct a series of dramatic events in a Mumbai slum.
In our narrative nonfiction section, we have book recommendations from the award-winning journalist and author Samira Shackle, from the New York Times writer Catherine Manegold, and from the MacArthur 'genius' grant winner Peter Hessler.
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall
by Anna Funder
Nothing to Envy
by Barbara Demick
Behind the Beautiful Forevers
by Katherine Boo
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
by Patrick Radden Keefe
City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp
by Ben Rawlence
Narrative nonfiction is a style of writing that takes the facts and dramatises them to create novelistic retellings of real life events. Samira Shackle, author of Karachi Vice, a book that offers vivid insight into the lives of five of the city’s residents, recommends five books that have inspired her—and explains how a writer might begin to carve ‘plot’ and ‘characters’ from reams of research material.
A good writer must always aim to write the truth – a more complex narrative than one of heroes and villains. But to find the truth, sometimes you’ve got to get up and go there yourself, says Will Storr, journalist and author of Selfie. Here he selects five books that have inspired his own immersive approach to nonfiction.
Writer and journalist Peter Hessler selects five books, from Haight Ashbury to a fifth grade classroom, which show how nonfiction can bring true stories to life through literary techniques. He chooses the best of narrative nonfiction.
The author and former New York Times reporter says that some of the very best writing today is nonfiction — and that seductive narratives can yank readers into the most diverse range of subjects