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The University of Southampton

HUMA6015 Narrative Non-Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Art

Module Overview

Writing is inherently an interdisciplinary art. From novelists to poets to narrative non-fiction writers, writers tend to delve into fields that are not their own. Ian McEwan shadows neurologists for several years as he was researching Saturday; Hilary Mantel writes about Thomas Cromwell in her Wolf Hall trilogy; Seamus Heaney wrote about the “Troubles” in countless poems. In narrative non-fiction, this is almost exclusively the case. Truman Capote spent years researching four murders in a small town in Kansas for In Cold Blood. Antony Beevor delves into World War II to bring Stalingrad to life. Susan Sontag explores the art of the camera in On Photography. This module will offer you the chance to explore the world of narrative non-fiction, allowing you to research a field that you wish to investigate – be it art, medicine, history, biology or current events. At the same time, you will learn both how to conduct research (through documents, observations, interviews, etc.) as well as the fundamental techniques of telling a true story. You will also look at memoir, especially as it engages with the outside world. The module will consist of lectures that address techniques in narrative non-fiction as well as the structure and techniques in particular narrative non-fiction texts, while also including talks from lecturers in different disciplines who write about their work for an audience outside their own field. The seminars will consist of workshops in which student work is critiqued, interlaced with discussions of issues in creative non-fiction such how to tell a story that creates characters, places 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. The module is aimed at both MA Creative Writing and MA English students 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. While you will practice non –fiction writing during the term, the assessment may, upon consultation with the module convenor, be made into a fictional piece or a series of poems – recognizing the interdisciplinary quality of creative writing.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • How to write in a range of non-fictional genres and styles
  • The methods by which non-fiction writers research and write
  • The process of development and revision involved in creating narrative non-fiction
  • How to achieve originality, linguistic versatility, and form in the handling of narrative structure, character, place, dialogue, and overall control of language in your non-fiction writing
  • The achievements of contemporary narrative non-fiction writers whose work may help you improve your own writing
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • be used to generating and developing ideas for non-fiction writing.
  • be able to think critically about your own creative non-fiction work
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • be able to successfully plan, structure, rewrite and edit your work.
  • have written two short narrative non-fiction pieces for assessment.
  • have practised working with the key elements of narrative non-fiction including character, place, dialogue, imagery and structure.
  • have practiced research skills
  • be able to write critical commentaries of your own work.


You will look at how techniques of narrative non-fiction – research, narrative, structure, place and character – work together to create a successful piece of non-fiction. You will look closely at how these elements work in contemporary non-fiction, both by reading short and book-length pieces of non-fiction, and also hearing from writers in different fields – art, science, medicine – who will talk about how they tell their true stories. Having gained skills in the key elements of narrative non-fiction, you will then be expected to write a piece for your final assignment. Reflecting and writing critically about your own methods and finished work is a key element of this module, and you will be required to write a critical commentary to accompany your non-fiction assignment.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

You will attend at least five double lecture and five two-hour seminars during the MA taught weeks. Lectures will focus on analysis of narrative non-fiction books as well as shorter pieces; and discussion of key techniques in researching and writing narrative non-fiction. The seminars will mainly focus on student writing through workshopping of student pieces through which discussion of non-fiction techniques will continue. You will be expected to bring drafts of your work to seminars prior to each deadline, and to offer feedback to your fellow students on their work. You will be able to see your seminar tutor in regular consultation hours and to ask for feedback on work in progress as well as on marked assignments.

Independent Study130
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Dave Eggers (2010). Zeitoun. 

Atul Gawande (2014). Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End. 

Rachel Carson (2000). Silent Spring. 

Oliver Sachs (2015). The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. 

Ernest Hemingway (2000). A Moveable Feast. 

Helen MacDonald (2014). H is for Hawk. 

Joan Didion (2006). We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order To Live: Collected Non-Fiction. 

Susan Sontag (2002). On Photography. 

Truman Capote (2009). In Cold Blood. 

Atul Gawande (2008). Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. 

William Zinsser (2016). On Writing Well, 35th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. 

Tobias Wolff (1999). This Boy’s Life. 

Tracy Kidder (2000). House. 

Tracy Kidder (2013). Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction. 

Lee Gutkind (2012). You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between. 

Zadie Smith (2011). Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays. 

Roz Chast (2014). Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir. 

Susan Orlean (1998). The Orchid Thief. 

Jesmyn Ward (2013). Men We Reaped: A Memoir. 

Joan Didion (2009). The White Album. 

Philip Lopate (2013). To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. 

Antony Beevor (2007). Stalingrad. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Critical commentary  (1250 words) 25%
Narrative non-fiction assignment  (4000 words) 75%


MethodPercentage contribution
Portfolio  (5000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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