Login

Literary Nonfiction: Essays, Diaries, Letters, & More

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Literary Nonfiction: Biographies & Autobiographies

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 What Is Literary Nonfiction?
  • 0:52 Autobiographical Nonfiction
  • 4:15 The Essay
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

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.

Watch this video lesson to explore the world of literary nonfiction. You will learn the similarities and differences between journals, diaries, memoirs and much more.

What Is Literary Nonfiction?

Nonfiction, which includes any writing based on real life events, encompasses a vast variety of writing. Two subcategories for nonfiction are informational and literary. Informational nonfiction includes writing with the purpose to describe or express facts. Literary nonfiction also contains facts, but is meant to entertain the reader. In this way, literary nonfiction reads like fiction and has story elements, like character, setting and plot.

Some examples of literary nonfiction include personal journals, diaries, memoirs, letters, and essays. Let's look at the characteristics of each of these.

Autobiographical Nonfiction

Much of literary nonfiction can be described as autobiographical, which is writing from the author's perspective. This type of writing is usually in first person point of view, which means the narrator is a character in the story. Since the author is the narrator, this means the author is the main character in the story. Most autobiographies are novel-length since they cover the subject's entire life. However, there are many shorter works that are still considered autobiographical.

The first such work is a personal journal, which is a daily written record of personal experiences and observations. This usually consists of short pieces of writing each day. For example, if you were assigned to design an experiment for a science project, you might keep a journal to describe what you did for that experiment every day until the project was due. A journal could be kept for a few weeks or even several years but always has a factual account of experiences of the author.

Another related autobiographical work is the diary. Similar to journals, diaries contain a daily account of experiences. The difference is diaries include personal thoughts and feelings. While a journal is more based on facts, a diary can have a person's deepest secrets and desires; as such, it is usually not meant to be shared with anyone. A great example is the book The Diary of Anne Frank. Anne Frank was a real Jewish girl who kept a diary while hiding from the Germans during World War II. She wrote about her personal thoughts and feelings about what was happening to her family. Years later, her diary was found and published by Anne's descendants to showcase the terrors of Nazi Germany.

A third type of autobiographical work is the memoir. Memoirs are extremely similar to journals and diaries in that memoirs relate the author's personal experiences. Like diaries, memoirs can also reveal the narrator's personal feelings. Memoirs are different because they are not written daily, are meant to be published and shared, and usually focus on one specific event or theme. A well-known memoir is Tuesdays with Morrie. In this book, the author, Mitch Albom, recounts his time spent with his aging sociology professor who is dying from ALS. This memoir is limited to that period of Albom's life. Other events of his life are not shown.

A final example of an autobiographical work of literary nonfiction is a letter. A letter is a written message addressed to a person or organization. Letters often contain personal thoughts and opinions, but they are directed at just one person. Letters are never really meant to be published and are usually discarded once the message is received. Emails can be considered a more advanced type of letter.

The Essay

Journals, diaries, memoirs and letters are all examples of autobiographical nonfiction. One type of literary nonfiction that is not autobiographical is the essay. An essay is a short work of nonfiction that deals with a single subject. Essays can describe, inform, persuade, express or accomplish a number of other purposes. The key idea is to keep to one area of focus.

There are three types of essays. The first is an expository essay, which includes formal writing with a strict structure. Expository essays usually aim to explain information or an idea. The topics are serious subjects with an impersonal tone. An essay explaining the definition of global warming is an example of an expository essay.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher
What is your educational goal?
 Back

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 95 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support