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Define It, Anyway (or, at least, try to.)

An Attempt to Define Nonfiction with Representative Genre Types:

Robert Root on Nonfiction – First Definition:

“The written expression of, reflection upon, and/or interpretation of observed, perceived, or recollected experience”(3).

The Nonfictionist’s Guide: On Reading and Writing Creative Nonfiction (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008)

***

Examples of the traditional conception of Nonfiction writing:

School Writing:

“Term” papers
Five-paragraph essays
Book Reports
Expository “themes” for practice
Practice exercises/ Practice writing

Educational texts:

Textbooks
Guidebooks
Self-help books
Pamphlets

Academic writing:

Textbooks
College catalogues, course listings, planning documents, etc.
Academic essays
Theses
Dissertations

Traditional journalism:

Reporting

Technical documents:

User manuals
Instructions
Technical documents of all kinds

Scientific Writing:

Lab reports
Research reports
Scientific papers, articles, etc.

Criticism:

Literary Analysis
Literary criticism in many forms
Cultural criticism
Cultural criticism in many forms

Persuasive texts:

Proposals
Reviews: books, movies, restaurants, etc.
Arguments
Letters to the Editor
Prospectus
Problem solving / Advice giving documents
Advertising

Miscellaneous:

Grocery lists
Road signs
Others

***

Robert Root ~ Second Definition:

“A genre of literature…which includes such subgenres as the personal essay, the memoir, narrative reportage, and expressive critical writing and whose borders with other reality-based genres and forms (such as journalism, criticism, history, etc.), are fluid and malleable”(4).

The Nonfictionist’s Guide: On Reading and Writing Creative Nonfiction (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008)

Creative nonfiction subgenres:

Journals
Memoir: short and long
Personal essay: familiar essay, reflective essay
Literary journalism
Autobiography
Biography
Profile
Writing about place: travel, nature and eco writing
Histories
Personal narrative: reportage of travel, place, exploration, investigation
Segmented essays
Mixed genre pieces
Experimental essays
“Short shorts”
Documentaries  (A shifting category?)

Nonfiction texts may be:

Narrative
Lyrical
Dramatic
Meditative
Expository
Poetic
Referential
Persuasive
Intimate
Confessional
Reportorial
Critical
Analytical
Argumentative
Or, some combination of the above.

***

4th Genre definition (Robert Root with Michael Steinberg):

Personal presence
Self-discovery & self-motivation
Flexibility of form
Veracity
Literary approaches (fiction, poetry, drama, cinematic)

The essay, invented by Montaigne: governed not by rules but by motive; to essai = to try.
Answers the question, What do I know?

The tools of creative nonfiction – that all writers have –
(Roorbach, Contemporary, 2):

Voice
Language
Drama
Passion
Characters
Literary talent

Alternate terms for creative nonfiction:

literary nonfiction, literature of reality, literature of fact, fourth genre, New Journalism, artful journalism, narrative nonfiction, art journalism, narrative journalism (Roorbach, Contemporary, 2-3)

Shared “values” (characteristics) of creative nonfiction:

  • Humanity
  • Aspires to ART
  • Language
  • The person
  • Accuracy
  • Good faith use of the genre
  • Urgency
  • Surprise
  • Complexity
  • Ambition
  • Intelligence
    (Roorbach, Contemporary)


 

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