Nonfiction, Creative Nonfiction, and Memoir
Why is it important to review Nonfiction genres when most of us write Fiction? Because learning is good and it is writing and…well, you don’t really believe Memoirs are completely factual, do you? Anything based on a person’s memories is definitely going to be partially fiction.
Even fiction requires research and that means loads of non-fiction work. There are countless jokes about the browsing history of a fiction writer. Many of us might even give Literary Nonfiction a try, so let’s go through the various genres.
Nonfiction is fact-based prose writing. It is not the product of imagination in the pure sense, but of fact, history, and real events. I’m not saying that imagination is not involved. Imagination runs wild in cookbooks and craft books, but it is not the same thing. Pure Nonfiction does not rely on plot the way Fiction does. It may use a timeline, order of action, or logical progression to keep the facts in line. Think of a cookbook recipe and how it is broken down into steps. Examples of Nonfiction include, but are not limited to, books on textbooks, reference manuals, science treatises, auto repair manuals.
Creative Nonfiction (also known as Literary Nonfiction or Narrative Nonfiction) includes essays, articles in journals, and the ever-dreaded research paper. It uses literary styles and techniques in many cases but often require certain style rules be obeyed. The APA stylebook and the MLA contain the rules and regulations for their style of documentation. Using these formats, the author lists all, and I do mean ALL, the references used to gather the information used in the book.
And then there is Memoir. Based on fact and usually presented in a timeline format, it is possibly the most fictional of all the types. If you were writing your life story, would you not be tempted to leave out or play down certain events and embellish others. And a Memoir is based on memories, which are subjective at best and often completely in error. Research can verify dates and facts but the Memoir is much more than just the facts…it embeds the subjects personality in the words so that the reader feels they truly know the person. Take, as example, the infamous memoir of the daughter of Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest. Her brother swears it is a work of fiction. Christina declares it is all true. There is no real evidence to support either claim but by the end of the book you feel like you know Mommie Dearest intimately.
When you enter a library, you will find the Fiction books are shelved by the author’s last name A through Z. The Nonfiction, on the other hand, are filed by a numerical arrangement known as the Dewey Decimal System. Each subject is assigned a designation. If not for the Dewey Decimal System, we would spend countless hours searching for a particular book amongst all the others. Thank you, Mr. Dewey.