Defining Creative Nonfiction, Narrative Nonfiction, Memoir, Autobiography, and Biography

In this post, learn the definitions and differences between creative nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir, autobiography, and biography so that you know which genre you're writing.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Q. At first I thought I was writing "narrative nonfiction." As I proceed through the book, I have begun to wonder whether I might be writing "creative nonfiction," or even an "autobiography." Could you please further elucidate the distinctions?
- Mark

A. Well let's see...Narrative nonfiction IS creative nonfiction. They are one in the same—the terms used interchangeably, though the former is more common right now. Both are used to define nonfiction that reads like a novel. Examples: Into the Wild, The Right Stuff, In Cold Blood, Seabiscuit. Films like Apollo 13, The Perfect Storm, etc. 

(6 Tools for Writing Nonfiction That Breathes.)

When you're talking about a biography or an autobiography, you're talking about a work that really focuses on one individual. I tend to feel like autobiographies and biographies are usually for celebrities. Brad Pitt gets a biography... 

Defining Creative Nonfiction, Narrative Nonfiction, Memoir, Autobiography, and Biography

How do you know if your work is a memoir, biography, or narrative nonfiction?

Biographies tend to be sweeping—focusing on the whole life. Memoirs tend to focus on an aspect or time period of a life, though not always. For example, Marley & Me was about his time with the dog—THAT was the aspect. A Long Way Gone was a memoir written about a man's experience as a child soldier in Africa—THAT was the aspect. 

(25 Tips to Make You a Better Nonfiction Writer.)

Biographies tend to be about one person. Narrative nonfiction can focus on several or many. When the book is mostly about you, it's an autobiography. When the book is about bigger things than yourself, then it's narrative nonfiction. Know, however, that the term "narrative nonfiction" is typically used to describe books that are NOT about the author. 

And sometimes the genres can overlap. For example, a book I just got done writing about called Bonnie & Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend, by Paul Schneider is called a biography by the publishing company, but it feels more like narrative nonfiction to me. 

*****

Writing Nonfiction Fundamentals

Research, interview, and explore the subjects that interest you. Then write about what you've learned in Writing Nonfiction 101: Fundamentals. Writing nonfiction is a great way for beginner and experienced writers to break into the publishing industry.

Click to continue.

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

In this article, Brian Freeman, author of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Treachery, discusses how he took up the mantle of a great series and made it his own.

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Learn how to distinguish the sole from the soul with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Writing Workshop or Conference

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Writing Workshop or Conference

In this brave new world of virtual learning and social distance, Kristy Stevenson helps us make the most of the virtual conference.

When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?

When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?

Writers of historical fiction must always ride the line between factual and fictitious. Here, author Terry Roberts discusses how to navigate that line.

What Is Creative Nonfiction in Writing?

What Is Creative Nonfiction in Writing?

In this post, we look at what creative nonfiction (also known as the narrative nonfiction) is, including what makes it different from other types of fiction and nonfiction writing and more.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Four WDU Courses, a Competition Deadline Reminder, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce four WDU courses, a Competition deadline reminder, and more!

Funny You Should Ask: What Is Going to Be the Next Big Trend in Fiction?

Funny You Should Ask: What Is Going to Be the Next Big Trend in Fiction?

Funny You Should Ask is a humorous and handy column by literary agent Barbara Poelle. In this edition, she discusses the next big fiction trend, and whether or not all books are the same.

From Script

A Change in Entertainment Business Currency and Disrupting Storytelling with Historical Significance (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, learn about how crypto currency is making a wave in the entertainment business, what percentages really mean in film financing, the pros and cons of writing partnerships, an exclusive interview with three-time NAACP Image Awards nominee, co-creator and former showrunner of CBS’ 'S.W.A.T.' Aaron Rahsaan Thomas and more!

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Putting Off Submissions

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Putting Off Submissions

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is putting off submissions.