Genre & Theme
3 min read

A short guide to factualism in story-telling

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Factualism in storytelling refers to grounding narratives in actual events, people, and settings, prioritizing accuracy and authenticity. As a subgenre within the broader reality genre category, factualism allows writers to explore true stories and present them in a compelling and engaging way. This article provides an overview of the reality genre, delves into the origins and critical elements of factualism, offers techniques for compelling factual storytelling, and guides writers in choosing factualism as their reality genre of choice.

Understanding the reality genre

The reality genre encompasses a variety of storytelling styles that share a common emphasis on realistic, true-to-life narratives. This genre can include various subgenres, such as historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and factualism. Each subgenre has unique characteristics that appeal to different reader preferences. Choosing the appropriate reality genre depends on the writer's interests, the story's focus, and the intended audience.

When to choose factualism as your reality genre

Factualism is an ideal choice for writers who:

  • Have a strong interest in actual events, people, or settings
  • Value accuracy and authenticity in their storytelling
  • Aim to inform, educate, or provoke thought in their readers
  • Enjoy conducting research and gathering information

The roots of factualism

Factualism originated in early nonfiction writing, such as biographies, historical accounts, and journalistic reporting. Since then, it has expanded to include various forms of storytelling, such as novels, films, and documentaries.

Examples of early factualist works:

  • "The History of the Peloponnesian War" by Thucydides
  • "The Lives of the Twelve Caesars" by Suetonius

Key elements of factualism

Factual narratives prioritize truthful representations of events, people, and settings, aiming to provide an accurate account of reality. Factualism requires meticulous attention to detail, ensuring that even minor elements are accurate and well-researched. Factual stories are rooted in reality, drawing inspiration from actual occurrences and figures.

The key elements of factualism:

  • Authenticity and accuracy
  • Attention to detail
  • Use of real-life events, people, and settings

Techniques for effective factual storytelling

  • Conducting thorough research: Writers should gather information from reliable sources, such as primary documents, interviews, and scholarly works, to build a strong foundation for their narrative.
  • Fact-checking and verifying information: Ensure all information presented in the story is accurate and up-to-date, double-checking facts and figures as needed.
  • Balancing factual information with engaging narrative: While accuracy is crucial, writers should also focus on crafting a compelling story that keeps readers engaged and emotionally invested.
  • Integrating primary and secondary sources: Skillfully weave quotes, anecdotes, and historical context into the narrative to enrich the story and provide a well-rounded perspective.

Examples of factualism in contemporary storytelling

Notable authors and works:

  • Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" - A pioneering work of narrative nonfiction, this chilling account tells the true story of the brutal murder of a Kansas family in 1959.
  • Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City" - A meticulously researched historical narrative that interweaves the stories of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the serial killer who preyed on its visitors.
  • Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" - A gripping biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini, who endured a harrowing ordeal as a POW in Japanese prison camps.

Popular films and television series:

  • "The Thin Blue Line" - A groundbreaking documentary that re-examines the case of Randall Dale Adams, wrongly convicted of murder in 1976, raising questions about the American justice system.
  • "Spotlight" - A compelling drama chronicling the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the widespread cover-up of child abuse within the Catholic Church.
  • "Chernobyl" - A critically acclaimed miniseries that dramatizes the events surrounding the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the heroic efforts of those who worked to contain the catastrophe.

Challenges and criticisms of factualism

  • The potential for bias and subjectivity: Writers must remain aware of their own biases and strive to present a balanced account of events, taking care not to skew the narrative unfairly.
  • The limits of accuracy and objectivity: While factualism aims for accuracy, complete objectivity is often unattainable, and writers should acknowledge the inherent subjectivity of storytelling.
  • Balancing factualism with artistic expression and storytelling: Writers must balance adhering to the facts and crafting an engaging, compelling story that resonates with readers.

The value of factualism in storytelling lies in its ability to inform, educate, and provoke thought while engaging readers with captivating narratives. By understanding the key elements of factualism and mastering the techniques of effective factual storytelling, writers can create compelling works that offer fresh insights into actual events, people, and settings. Embracing the challenges and potential of factualism, writers can contribute to a rich and diverse literary landscape that continues to evolve and captivate audiences.



  1. Coyne, Shawn. 2015. The Story Grid. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment.