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Literary Nonfiction: Biographies & Autobiographies

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  • 0:01 What Is Nonfiction?
  • 1:14 Biography
  • 3:15 Autobiography
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Literary nonfiction consists of many types of writing. Two of the most popular types are biographies and autobiographies. Watch this video lesson to learn more about these two types.

What is Nonfiction?

Nonfiction literature encompasses a wide variety of writing. Nonfiction can be defined as any writing based on true or real-life experiences. There are enough types and styles of nonfiction to seem overwhelming. One way to help organize the various types is to split nonfiction into two subcategories: informational nonfiction and literary nonfiction.

Informational nonfiction includes any writing that aims to inform or give facts. Literary nonfiction includes writing that is based on real world events, but is meant to entertain. Literary nonfiction reads like fiction, which means it has elements of a story, which includes characters, setting and plot. However, in nonfiction these elements must be real and not imaginary. The stories are meant to amuse the reader, as well as inform on true stories.

The two major types of literary nonfiction are biography and autobiography. Let's look closer at these two types of literary nonfiction.

Biography

The first type of literary nonfiction is the biography. A biography is a true story of a person's life that is written by someone else. This true story has all the elements of fiction: characters, setting and plot. Those elements all come from a real person's life, so the characters are real; the setting is an actual place, and the events truly happened.

On the whole, biographies are written about famous individuals or someone who has made an important impact on society. This person is known as the subject. The subject is the person whose life is being described in the biography.

Another key trait of a biography is that it is written by another person. The biographer is the one who writes the biography. If you were writing the story of Barack Obama's life, then Barack Obama would be the subject and you would be the biographer. Biographies are written in third-person point of view, which means the narrator is outside the story. Thus, the narrator uses pronouns like he, she, her and him to refer to the subject. For our example, you would be outside the story of Obama's life and use the pronouns he, his and him to refer to Obama.

To write a biography, the biographer interviews the subject and researches the subject's life. This could mean reading various types of information on the subject, or even interviewing other people in the subject's life. The purpose of a biography is to present an accurate account of the subject's life, so any information the biographer can find on the subject helps to meet this goal. The best biographers try to include the strengths and successes of the subject, as well as the weaknesses and failures. In this way, most biographers try to be unbiased towards their subject.

Autobiography

Another type of literary nonfiction is the autobiography. Autobiographies are the same as biographies except for one key difference: the story of a person's life is told by that person. This means that in an autobiography, a person tells the story of his or her own life. Because of this, autobiographies are told in first-person point of view. This means that the narrator is in the story and uses the pronouns I, me and my. Thus, Barack Obama's autobiography is the story of his life written by himself.

Another important concept to note about autobiographies is the ability to insert personal thoughts and opinions. Since the author writes about his own life, autobiographies can often be biased. This means that the author could present the information in order for him to be seen in a certain light. Sometimes weaknesses and failures can be excused or even skipped over. Not all autobiographers will do this, but it is in human nature to try to present oneself in the best light possible. It is important to be aware of this fact when reading an autobiography.

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