Comparing Literary & Informative Nonfiction: Analysis & Methods

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Traditionally, nonfiction is used to transmit knowledge to the reader, but literary nonfiction borrows storytelling elements of fiction to tell a true story in an engaging way. In this lesson, we will compare literary nonfiction to informative nonfiction.

Types of Nonfiction

Do you prefer reading fiction or nonfiction? Fiction has a way of drawing the reader into the story while nonfiction teaches us about the world around us. Some types of nonfiction borrow elements from fiction to provide the best of both worlds. Basically, there are four types of nonfiction: descriptive, persuasive, expository, and narrative. Literary nonfiction is a type of descriptive writing in which imagery and other storytelling elements are employed to transform true events into an engaging novel. Informative nonfiction is a form of expository or narrative writing that is used to teach the reader about a person, topic, or event. Let's learn more about literary nonfiction and informative nonfiction.

Literary Nonfiction

Literary nonfiction is a form of writing in which literary elements that are generally seen in fiction writing are incorporated into the retelling of a true story. Literary nonfiction is also known as creative nonfiction or literary journalism. Even though it is used to write about an event or specific people, its main purpose is not to inform, but is more to entertain and tell a story and to be seen more like a work of art--literary art. As compared to traditional nonfiction, the author tends to be very descriptive, uses more figurative language, such as similes and metaphors, and provides more of his own personal perspective.

One classic example of literary nonfiction is Truman Capote's heralded work In Cold Blood, which was the original true crime novel about the murder of the Clutter family in their home in rural Kansas in 1959, the subsequent manhunt, arrest, and execution of the men who committed the crime.

When describing Holcomb, Kansas, the scene of the crime, Capote writes: ''Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.'' Capote compares drama to waters, motorists, and trains using simile and personification. The result is an artistic description that engages the reader with the visual image of an uninteresting place where remarkable crimes like this don't normally happen. The author describes the Clutters, the townspeople, the investigators, and the criminals as characters in a story complete with a plot and a theme.

Reading literary nonfiction combines high-interest stories with facts that help the reader learn about various events and topics. When reading literary nonfiction, the reader should be cautious of author bias and poetic license that may lead the author to draw inferences or comparisons that could be misleading.

Informative Nonfiction

In contrast, informative nonfiction focuses on the transmission of facts to tell the readers about the topic or events. The way the writer presents the information is straightforward and concise as the focus is more on relaying information than on the writer's presentation style. While both genres should contain research-based information with verifiable references, informative nonfiction is generally more reliable than literary nonfiction because the author's presentation is objective and unbiased.

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