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Courses / Modules / HUMA3011 Telling True Stories: Narrative Non-Fiction

Telling True Stories: Narrative Non-Fiction

When you'll study it
Semester 2
CATS points
ECTS points
Level 6
Module lead
Toby Litt
Academic year

Module overview

Narrative non-fiction is one of the most exciting areas of contemporary writing. After many years of being seen as having lower artistic status than fiction, a hugely diverse range of memoir, autofiction, essay collections, and historical writing has drawn a great deal of popular and critical attention – and has decisively shifted perceptions of writers who don’t work by making things up. The awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Svetlana Alexievich (2015) and Annie Ernaux (2022) is a powerful confirmation of this. Texts such as Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and Jesmyn Ward’s The Men We Reaped have been hugely influential on writers of both non-fiction and fiction.

This module will offer you the chance to explore the world of narrative non-fiction, looking at the ways it is explanatory (often in literary journalism), exploratory (usually in memoir), and sometimes polemic (in personal essays) while at the same time looking at when each of these modes of thought are encompassed across the forms on narrative non-fiction. At the same time, you will learn how to construct a “true” story – a piece of narrative non-fiction – by looking at the fundamental techniques of telling a true story and how it steals from the craft of fiction, using ideas of character, voice and plot in order to bring these stories to life. We will also study how to conduct research (through interviewing, immersion, for eg.) and publish creative non-fiction.

The module will consist of lectures that address techniques in narrative non-fiction as well as looking closely at particular narrative non-fiction texts. It may feature talks from lecturers in different disciplines who write for an audience outside their own field.

The seminars will consist of discussions of issues in creative non-fiction (such how to tell a story that creates characters, place and suspense without straying from the truth, when to use first person, the role of the writer as character, and whether it is ever acceptable to alter details to construct a story) as well as workshops in which your work is critiqued.

The module is aimed at both English students interested in creative writing, as well as students from disciplines across the university who might have an interest in writing about their own subject for a non-specialist audience. The skills required for writing creative non-fiction is helpful in any mode of creative writing and in any field, so this module will help you to develop as a writer whatever your plans and ambitions may be.

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