Is there a name for the non-fiction content in which the author tells the story by chronicling some journey they set out on for the purpose of writing, documenting their journey? Prominent examples that immediately come to mind for me are Super Size Me, The Year of Living Biblically, Kumaré and I know there have been many other authors, documentarians, journalists, etc. that have decided to tell stories by setting some challenge and documenting it.

The memoir genre seems too large to describe this form of storytelling although it does seem fitting to consider it a sub-genre of memoirs. I was thinking something along the lines of investigative memoir?

Anyway, does a name for this already exist? If not, what would you call it?

  • Feature story, success story, etc. comes to mind. Not sure if they fit here. – NVZ Aug 16 '16 at 4:15
  • 1
    'Performative documentary' comes to mind; it's one of the six types usually cited. – JEL Aug 16 '16 at 6:46
  • 1
    @NVZ not sure getting fat from McDonalds qualifies as success story :D – Helmar Aug 16 '16 at 8:37
  • Daniel Williams in 'Styles of Documentary classes 'Supersize Me' as 'Participatory Documentary': "A participatory documentary is where the events and situations presented are influenced and altered by the presence of the filmmaker. A brilliant example of this is 'Supersize Me' (2004))" – Edwin Ashworth Aug 16 '16 at 20:25

I'd just call it by the say-what-you-see name of "Personal challenge documentary".

As @JEL says in the comments to the question, it is in the "Performative" category, according to that popular categorisation at least (eg https://www.videomaker.com/article/c06/18423-six-primary-styles-of-documentary-production). You could also call put it into the "Investigatory" category, since the film maker is investigating what it's like to live in a certain way for a year, or whatever.

But, "performative" just tells us that the film maker is the subject of the documentary, and "Investigative" just tells us that something is being investigated, and suggests that the thing is something external to the film maker. Neither really tell us anything about what (s)he's doing. I think "Personal challenge" fits the specific set of documentaries mentioned in the question.

I think most people would "get" it - if you said "I'm going to make a personal challenge documentary" they might say "Oh, like Super Size Me or something? What are you going to do?".

"Memoir" definitely isn't right, as a memoir is someone looking back on their own life, like re-reading a diary, whereas this style of documentary follows the action as it happens.


Self-experimentation movie or documentary, with an example of use here, citing different avatars of "Super * me". The first term refers to a situation:

in which the experimenter conducts the experiment on himself or herself.


creative nonfiction, also known as narrative nonfiction or literary nonfiction

Creative nonfiction is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as academic or technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not written to entertain based on writing style or florid prose. [...] For a text to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate, and written with attention to literary style and technique. "Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction."

Source: Wikipedia

In short, literary nonfiction is a book that repersents accurate information written in a way that it could be fiction. I think this is definitely the case for the books you list (although I haven't read them). That is also one of the reasons why they became so popular. You also describe them as something that looks like a memoir, which also reads like a novel.

  • How does this correspond to '[in which] the author tells the story by chronicling some journey they set out on for the purpose of writing, documenting their journey'? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 16 '16 at 20:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.