General · reading

What is the Nonfiction Novel?

In litchat the other day, someone posted a link to the Times list of best nonfiction One of the categories is the nonfiction novel.

That strikes me as very very odd. I mean, by definition, a novel is fiction. How can it be nonfiction? I don’t get it.

But wiki has an article about it and so does the New York Times. Britannica defines it as: “story of actual people and actual events told with the dramatic techniques of a novel.”

I know you can tell a nonfiction story like you would tell a fiction story, but I thought that was narrative nonfiction. If that’s not it, what is narrative nonfiction? Or maybe creative nonfiction – I think narrative nonfiction and creative nonfiction are the same thing.

This is so confusing! Also, contradictory, because I never imagined anything could be described as both nonfiction and a novel. That’s just weird.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is supposed to have invented the genre and in the New York Times interview he says he wrote it because he a literary theory about the nonfiction novel. Something about “. . . a narrative form that employed all the techniques of fictional art but was nevertheless immaculately factual . . .“.

I am not entirely sure I understand his theory, but it sounds a lot like narrative nonfiction. Is it the same thing? I am still not sure.


3 thoughts on “What is the Nonfiction Novel?

  1. Hi Sonia,
    As a small press publisher I’m totally with ya on this one. First it was “literary fiction” to at a little snob appeal between “good” fiction and “bad” fiction. So we had to try to figure that out and explanations were “character driven” instead of “event driven,” but then it seems that characters are always reacting to events in their stories so we scratched our heads. Then came “creative non-fiction” which, I suspect is where all this latest designation started. And as the blurred lines smear into problems such as with A MILLION LITTLE PIECES or THREE CUPS OF TEA.

    Personally, I can’t figure out where this is going. The market from the top down is in complete upheaval from factors that range from the economy to the advent of constantly (and very quickly!) changing new formats for all sorts of epublications, the demise of bookstores everywhere, and the disappearing platforms for review.

    It will be interesting to see how it all settles in the en. meanwhile, why is it so hard to find something worth reading?

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