My nonfiction novel

I know what you’re thinking: It’s an oxymoron. Novels are fiction.

But when it comes to narrative nonfiction, the genre of my book, labels aren’t that simple. My travel memoir tells a true story, but it’s meant to read like a novel.

That means I’ve got to work elements of fiction into my book, including dialogue, character development, conflict and literary techniques like the metaphor, which I haven’t used since college.

This isn’t easy for me. As a journalist, I’m used to writing short, true stories that are straight to the point, not subtly dramatic. I’m used to quoting scarcely. I’m used to keeping my voice and humor out of the story.

But for this memoir, I want my voice to shine through. To help me along, I’m reading Peter Rubie’s The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction (a book recommended by a literary agent on Twitter, which is where I seem to get all my good leads these days).

To tell you the truth, it has taken this long — four months of delving into my book — to figure out my own voice, my style, my writing humor. But now I’m finally getting it! My nonfiction novel is starting to come together.

8 Responses

  1. Sounds like you have a very clear vision for your book – a strong foundation. I am the exact opposite. I write fantasy. I have written things that are nonfiction, but it is a totally different mindset. Challenging but you have great vision, determination and passion. I am sure you will do an excellent job.


  2. HI Alexis,
    Yes, shifting from journalism (or in my case PR writing) to narrative nonfiction is quite a change. I went back to college and took all the Creative Nonfiction classes UNM had to offer. Sounds like you’ve got a good handle on what you need to do to make the memoir read like a novel. It was challenging for me because my mind doesn’t naturally think in metaphor and description. Again, good luck!


  3. Hi, Alexis,
    I’ve written journalism, and its close cousin, technical writing. Both are oceans away from fiction of any kind. My point is, I can empathize with what you’re facing. I gotta tell ya, I could no more pull off what you’re doing than I could grow hair. A fiction book is tough enough, but, your project is even tougher. However, knowing you the tiny little bit that I do, I already know you’ll be a success. You just gotta keep grinding.

  4. IMHO, you’re definitely on the right track when you choose to write memoir using the same rules one would use for fiction. A recent good example is Three Cups of Tea: ( on I would recommend that one if you haven’t already read it.


  5. The very finest non-fiction sings with all the style and liveliness of fiction, but it also has that grounding of lived experiences. It will be interesting to begin seeing examples of your style as it develops.

  6. Finding your own voice is a moment to celebrate. It will define your writing for the rest of your career. Rejoice!

  7. […] assumed I should use length rules that apply to nonfiction and count pages. But memoir has to read like a novel, and for that reason it follows many fiction guidelines, including the dreaded word count […]

  8. […] 3, 2009 by Alexis Grant Memoir includes elements of both nonfiction and fiction, as I’ve discussed before on this blog. While literary agent Miss Snark calls it a pesky category buster, until today I was […]

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