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Narrative Nonfiction Books: Definition and Examples

narrative nonfiction

What Is Narrative Non Fiction?

Narrative nonfiction is a book written in the format of a novel but based on a true story.  The important words are novel and true.

Narrative nonfiction is a story based on true events, and people love to read a story that includes:

  • A protagonist they can follow
  • Where the protagonist has a clear goal
  • Something important at stake

Best Narrative Nonfiction Books

The best way to learn how to write and edit a book is by looking at examples. Here are five popular examples of narrative nonfiction books.

  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer:  Krakauer’s harrowing firsthand account of the disastrous 1996 Mount Everest expedition vividly portrays the highs and lows amidst the unforgiving heights of the world’s tallest peak.
  • H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: A hauntingly beautiful memoir where Helen grapples with grief by training a goshawk. The books discusses nature, loss, and the complexities of the human spirit.
  • Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben: It’s a gripping true story of a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness and the remarkable survival of its passengers.
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: This poignant memoir exposes the injustices within the American legal system, particularly focusing on racial bias and the death penalty.
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank: Anne’s diary captures her life in hiding from the Nazis during WWII, offering a poignant and enduring testament to strength.

Best Nonfiction True Stories

Nonfiction books are a factual account of peoples’ lives, events, and history. As a result, all nonfiction books are true.

Not every nonfiction books is told in a narrative style, so here are ten examples of nonfiction books that are not written in the narrative style.

Here are six examples of nonfiction true stories.

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: This groundbreaking piece reconstructs the brutal murder of the Clutter family in Kansas, blurring the lines between journalism and literature.
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert: Elizabeth investigates the alarming reality of the current mass extinction event, examining humanity’s role in reshaping the planet’s biodiversity and our uncertain future.
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari: An exploration of the cultural evolution of Homo sapiens.
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain: Cain advocates for the value of introversion in a society that favors extroversion, challenging misconceptions and offering strategies for introverts.
  • The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle: Discusses mindfulness and living in the present moment, offering tips for achieving inner peace and spiritual awakening.
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg: Investigates the science behind habit formation and how habits shape individual and societal behavior. Charles offers advice for personal and organizational change.
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond: Investigates the impact of eviction on poverty in America, revealing the systemic inequalities perpetuating housing insecurity.
  • The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: Reveals the life and world of forests and trees, exploring their communication and resilience.
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: Examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success, challenging conventional notions of talent and hard work.
  • Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker: Explores the science of sleep and its role in physical and mental health. Matthew advocates for better sleep habits to improve everyone’s overall well-being.

How to Edit Narrative Nonfiction Books

Now we’ve looked at good examples of narrative nonfiction books, let’s talk about how to edit it.

Perhaps you’re an editor who has been hired to edit a narrative nonfiction book, or perhaps you’re a writer about to perform a story edit on your own book. Either way, the principles are the same.

Before starting the story edit, the three questions above must be answered.

To see if we know the answers to the questions, we start with a blurb. The author must write one before the editing begins. This is critical to a successful edit.

Narrative Nonfiction Blurb Example

Money Ball by Michael Lewis is a commercially successful narrative nonfiction story.

Narrative NonfictionMoneyball is a quest for something as elusive as the Holy Grail, something that money apparently can’t buy: the secret of success in baseball. The logical places to look would be the front offices of major league teams, and the dugouts, perhaps even in the minds of the players themselves. Lewis mines all these possibilities—his intimate and original portraits of big league ballplayers are alone worth the price of admission—but the real jackpot is a cache of numbers—numbers!—collected over the years by a strange brotherhood of amateur baseball enthusiasts: software engineers, statisticians, Wall Street analysts, lawyers and physics professors.

What these geek numbers show—no, prove—is that the traditional yardsticks of success for players and teams are fatally flawed. Even the box score misleads us by ignoring the crucial importance of the humble base-on-balls. This information has been around for years, and nobody inside Major League Baseball paid it any mind. And then came Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics.

Billy paid attention to those numbers —with the second lowest payroll in baseball at his disposal he had to—and this book records his astonishing experiment in finding and fielding a team that nobody else wantedMoneyball is a roller coaster ride: before the 2002 season opens, Oakland must relinquish its three most prominent (and expensive) players, is written off by just about everyone, and then comes roaring back to challenge the American League record for consecutive wins.

I’ve bolded the important bits.

  1. The protagonist is Billy Beane
  2. His goal is to figure out the secret of success in baseball
  3. His career is at stake.

So now, as an editor you can stay focussed on the story the author intended to write as you edit every scene. You don’t need a polished blurb. It can be as short as possible as long is it answers all three questions.

Is there a Story in the Manuscript?

If your goal is to publish a nonfiction book that reads like a novel, then it must be editing in the same way as a novel. The book must form a story, and so you’ll want to answer the question: Is there a story in the manuscript?

To answer that, the first step is find the story arc. This means locating the inciting incident, plot point 1, the middle plot point, plot point 2, and the climax scenes.

  1. Do all 5 scenes exist?
  2. Are the 5 scenes in the right place in the story?
  3. Do they accomplish what the must for a story are scene?

For an in-depth look a the story are, read What is a Good Story Arc by Sherry Leclerc, Fictionary Certified StoryCoach editor.

If the answer to the question is yes. Then there is a story and it’s time to proceed to a scene-level edit. If the answer is no, recommend to the writer they make the revisions necessary to create a story.

This is the most important step in the story editing process. A writer must understand if there is a story, and it’s the editor’s job to point that out.

Scene-by-Scene Editing

This comes after there is a story. An editor starts editing at the first scene and moves through each scene until the end of the book and makes suggestions for how the writer can improve the story.

A story editor must review each scene for:

  1. characters
  2. plot
  3. settings

Then they must review the story structure again and make sure it works. To get started on editing a scene, check out Ten Elements Of A Story You Should Know by Pamela Hines, Fictionary Certified StoryCoach Editor.


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