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Fiction vs Nonfiction: Differences and Definitions

fiction vs nonfiction

As readers, we love a great story. In most cases, stories entertain us, take us out of our reality, and introduce us to experiences unlike our own. However, these stories can be the work of fiction or nonfiction, as both forms entertain in a similar way. So, the question becomes, what specifically identifies fiction vs nonfiction?

What Is Fiction?

In short, fiction is the result of the imagination of an artist. This artist can create fiction in the form of:

  • Literature
  • Theater
  • Film
  • song
  • And more…

What Is Nonfiction?

Nonfiction is truth. As with fiction, nonfiction can also be presented in various forms of art. But the most important element of nonfiction is not that it is true, but that it must be true.

fiction vs. nonfiction

Is Nonfiction Fake?

A fiction book is one that describes imaginary people, places, and events. A nonfiction book describes real people, places, and events.

So, if we take fake to mean not real, then no, nonfiction is not fake.

What’s the Difference Between Nonfiction and Fiction?

So, in the fiction vs nonfiction debate we begin here, with the truth.

Some nonfiction writing focuses on informing the truth. These nonfiction works might focus on topics such as:

  • Science
  • Art
  • Or skills one might seek to learn from the writing (how to books).

Some nonfiction works of writing tell stories about real people, real events, and real places. Writers of nonfiction shoulder a responsibility of this truth for their readers. When a reader chooses to read a nonfiction book, the reader trusts the writer to tell them the facts.

However, the reader also trusts a nonfiction writer to both entertain and inform them.

The informative part of this contract feels like an easy one, but how does a writer entertain with the facts?

The nonfiction writer can reveal those facts in a carefully organized method of carrying their reader through their story. They can hold facts back to be shown at a moment that creates tension, surprise, or thrills for the reader.

When executed well, the nonfiction writer blurs those lines of storytelling and can make the truth feel as entertaining as fiction.

This form of nonfiction has gained much popularity in recent years, and many writers have found success in the genre of narrative nonfiction, which makes a true story feel like a novel.

fiction vs. nonfiction

Writing Fiction vs Nonfiction

Next in our discussion of fiction vs nonfiction, we’ll discuss fiction writing.

While narrative nonfiction can look like a novel and feel like a novel, it’s not.

That discrepancy of what is true, and imaginary creates a clear line that separates the two.

Many works of fiction consider real moments in history, real people, real events, but the execution of the story is imagined by the writer. Oftentimes, a line of disclaimer exists in these forms, something such as:

The people, places and events in this work are entirely a work of fiction.

The title of fiction acts as that disclaimer as well and, just as the nonfiction writer has an implied contract with their readers, so to does the fiction writer.

The fiction writer promises to create, stretch, and bend the facts of reality to make a story that entertains the reader and offer them a new perspective on what could possibly have been partly real.

fiction vs. nonfiction

In other forms of fiction, the writer completely reimagines a reality. This reality can appear very close to actual people, places, and events, but names and personalities are different, landscapes vary, and events are new.

This creative world, invented solely by the writer, can look somewhat like the world of the reader, or it can extend beyond anything the reader has experienced.

These variations can be indicative of genre.

Some genres, such as fantasy, speculative and science fiction rely on the vastly imaginative world of the writer’s own creation. Readers of these genres are rewarded with an experience so unlike reality. the question of fiction vs. nonfiction is unlikely to exist.

fiction vs. nonfiction

A fiction writer also shoulders a responsibility for their reader.

This responsibility exists in conveying a story with:

  • Believable characters
  • A forward moving plot
  • And a satisfying end

Fiction writers use various literary techniques to convey their story, and while the creative nonfiction writer can implement many of these same skills to enhance the facts of their story, the fiction writer relies on them.

When readers are hunting for their next great story to read (whether that’s fiction vs nonfiction), they have many options to point them in the direction of great titles.

Most bookstores have clearly marked sections of new works in both fiction and nonfiction.

Within those areas, there is usually a further breakdown where a reader might find titles in more specific genres such as Historical, Mystery/Thriller, and Fantasy in the Fiction section.

In nonfiction they might find genres of Biographies, Travel, and Memoir.

Fiction vs nonfiction, whether readers seek the truth or imagination, what they get from strong writing in both forms of fiction and nonfiction is more than contract.

They get connection.

That magic of the writer and reader, having a conversation through facts and story.


Article Written by Heather Wood

Fictionary Certified StoryCoach EditorBy combining my experience of teaching writing at the secondary level with a Fictionary StoryCoach Edit, I will help you strengthen your story while honoring the care and effort you have dedicated to your art.


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