The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018
Nonfiction novel: A narrative that uses techniques associated with fiction to recount factual, historical events in the form of a novel. American writer Truman Capote, often credited with inaugurating the genre with In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences (1965), described the nonfiction novel in a 1966 New York Times interview as “a serious new art form” based on “narrative reportage” and as “a narrative form that employ[s] all the techniques of fictional art but [is] nevertheless immaculately factual.”
As Capote’s reference to journalism indicates, nonfiction novels, which typically address recent or even contemporary events, require intensive research and may even require interviewing those involved in the events. As novelistic narratives, however, they typically include dialogue and descriptions of individuals’ states of mind that necessitate varying degrees of conjecture and may present events out of chronological order. Some nonfiction novels may even include characters who were not actually involved in the action. Novelist Norman Mailer coined the portmanteau word faction to refer to works that blend fact and fiction.
FURTHER EXAMPLES: Mailer’s Armies of the Night (1968) and The Executioner’s Song (1979); Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action (1995; adapted to film 1998).