Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Behind the Books: Just the Facts vs. Narrative Nonfiction

So what exactly is narrative nonfiction? It’s a book that tells a true story. It may cast real people as characters. It may use real, documented statements as dialog. There is a clear, identifiable setting.

In most cases, the story is told as a series of scenes that bring the reader up close alternating with expository links that link scenes by provide background information and putting events in context.

One of the best ways to see the difference is to compare Red-eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley to my book Frog or Toad: What’s the Difference?:

Here’s a short sample of Red-eyed Tree Frog:

“Evening comes to the rain forest.

The macaw and the toucan will soon go to sleep.

But the red-eyed tree frog has been asleep all day.

It wakes up hungry. What will it eat?”

See, it’s a story. A very short, very simple story. The book ends when the frog has a full belly and night turns back to day.

Here’s a short sample of Frog or Toad: What’s the Difference

“Which of these animals is a frog? Which one is a toad? Do you know?

A frog has wet, slimy skin. It needs to live close to water.

A toad has drier, bumpy skin. The skin keeps water inside the toad’s body. That’s why toads can live farther from water than frogs.

A frog has long, strong back legs. They are perfect for jumping or swimming.

A toad has short back legs. Toads walk or take small hops.”

See, the book presents fact after elucidating fact. No story in sight. By the end of the book, we have a solid understanding of the differences between frogs and toads.
Want some more examples? I’ll provide reading lists next week.


  1. The important thing is that the character is "real" and the writer doesn't put words in its mouth or give it actions that it wouldn't normally do. Can't wait for the reading lists!

  2. Exactly right, Sue. Nothing is made up in nonfiction, whether it's narrative or just-the-facts.