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About Narrative Nonfiction

About Narrative Nonfiction

Introduction

In an author’s note at the beginning of The Wild Trees, Richard Preston writes:
“This book is narrative nonfiction. The characters are real and the events are factual, told to the best of my understanding. Passages in which I narrate a person’s thoughts and feelings and present dialogue, have been built from interviews with the subjects and witnesses, and have been fact-checked. So many incredible things happen in our world that are never noticed, so many stories never get told. My goal is to reveal people and realms that nobody has ever imagined.”


Narrative nonfiction, also referred to as creative nonfiction, is a widely used and developing genre in which writers apply narrative strategies and techniques to factual material.

Generally speaking, in a piece of narrative nonfiction, you would find many of the same elements you would find in a story or novel, such as:

  • clear, well-developed characters
  • engaging dialogue, written as in a novel, as opposed to direct quotations
  • story is told using scenes that follow a narrative arc
  • an identifiable theme
  • use of literacy devices such as imagery, symbolism, and metaphor

But while narrative nonfiction takes a literary approach, it also shares some attributes with journalism in that veracity matters. Factual content must be accurate and verifiable. But unlike journalism, narrative nonfiction need not be objective. It is the writer’s account of the story being told and is often written in the first person point of view. For example, in The Wild Trees, though Preston tells the story of Sillet and his colleagues, the author becomes part of the story, too, as he develops a passion for climbing the trees, which he shares with his family.

Now that you have finished reading The Wild Trees, apply some of the characteristics of narrative nonfiction described above to the book. Jot down some examples from the book, using the notes from your reading logs, and be prepared to discuss the elements of narrative nonfiction found in The Wild Trees with your class.

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