The Concepts of Fiction and Nonfiction in Literature

The Concepts of Fiction and Nonfiction in Literature

UNIT 6: The Concepts of Fiction and Nonfiction
In this Unit, the following aspects will be covered:

  • Introduction 
  • Definitions of Fiction and Nonfiction
  • Forms of Fiction
  • Forms of Nonfiction
  • The Difference between Fiction and Nonfiction
  • Conclusion 
The Concept of Factual and Non-Factual writings is also a starting point to the introduction to literature.
Since literature is generally defined as anything written, the concepts of Fiction and Nonfiction are also anything written. The major difference between them is that the former deals with the creation of imagined materials while the latter deals with real materials. There are two major aspects regarding factual and no-factual writings. These are Fiction and Nonfiction.

Definitions of Fiction and Nonfiction 

By definitions, these terms have been defined as follows: 
Fiction is defined as the non-factual writings which are written by the writer who uses his/her mere imagination.
Fiction is a story or writing that is created from an author’s imagination. Thus, it is a form of narrative based upon the imagination of the author. Any writing that an author creates from his/her imagination is termed as a fiction.
The word ‘fiction’ comes from the Latin word ‘fictio’ which means ‘a making or a fashioning’. Although literal and reportorial are not included, authors may include facts about real people or events, but they combine these facts with imaginary settings and situations. Fiction is a narrative in which situations and characters are invented by the author, hence it include the books and stories about imaginary people and events.

Conclusively, the term fiction in literature takes its form in narrative writings such as prose (novel and short stories), plays and poetry with which we are going to cover later in this book.
Fiction writing is the composition of non-factual texts. Fictional writing often is produced as a story meant to entertain or convey an author’s point of view. The result of this may be a short story, novel, novella, screenplay, or drama, which are all some of the types of fictional writing styles. 

Nonfiction on the other hand, is defined as the factual writings which are written by the writer who uses facts in his/her works.
On the other hand, nonfiction is a factual writing about real life situations. Nonfiction is the literature that deals with real people, real events, and real experiences, that is, it is created entirely from the facts. Purposefully, nonfictional literature designates writings intended to instruct, to impart knowledge, wisdom or faith, and especially to please. They probably include more than half of all that has been written in countries having literature of their own. Writing or narrative that is nonfictional is generally supposed to cling to reality more closely than that which invents stories or frames imaginary plots. This book is also an example of instructional and academic nonfiction textbook.

Forms of Fiction
There are various forms of Fiction. They range from major forms of  literary genres to the minor forms. The following are among of them:

  1. Novels and short stories
  2. Plays
  3. Poems
  4. Fables
  5. Legends
  6. Myths
  7. Folktales
  8. Tall tales
  9. Epics
  10. Trickster tales
  11. Fairy tales
Forms of Nonfiction
The common major literary examples of nonfiction include expository, argumentative, functional, and opinion pieces; essays on art or literature; biographies; memoirs; journalism; and historical, scientific, technical or economic writings. The minor types include specific types such as letters, documentaries, photograph, diagrams, dictionary, textbooks, encyclopaedia, thesaurus, self-helps, philosophy, and the like.
There are also various forms of Nonfiction as a genre. The following are the common forms of Nonfiction literature.

  1. Letters and Journals. These contain personal thoughts and other reflections.
  2. Biographies. These are the writings that tell the life of someone written by another person. A biography is the story of a person’s life written by someone else. The word ‘biography’ comes from Greek words ‘bios’ which means ‘a life’ and ‘graphein’ which means ‘to write’.
  3. Autobiographies. These are the writer’s account of his/her own life. Autobiography is the narrative in which the author tells the story of his or her own life. The word ‘autobiography’ comes from three Greek words; ‘auto’ meaning ‘self’, ‘bios’ meaning ‘life’ and ‘graphein’ which means ‘to write’ thus meaning to write one’s own life.
  4. Memoirs. These are the person’s record of experiences form his/her own life.
  5. Media Accounts. These are the works written for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio.
  6. Essays. These are writings which are medium in length and discuss a topic about the author, author’s personal feelings or on a certain topic. This is a short piece of nonfiction writing in which the author presents his or her view on a particular topic. The essay form was invented by the French man Michel de Montaigne in 1572. Montaigne called his written pieces ‘essais’(French) which means ‘attempts’ or ‘tries’ in English. Essay always features the author’s opinions, arguments, observations, recollections, and reflections. The essay is typically 5 to 7 paragraphs, but can be of any length. It contains a definition, body and conclusion. Essays do not usually include citations, but rather based on a person’s point of view and typically written in third person.
  7. Articles. These are found on newspapers and magazines. They written specifically to focus on the facts of a subject and they express an author’ ideas or opinions on a topic.
  8. History. Is a factual account of real events that occurred in the past.  Mostly, history is the form of a narrative arranged in a chronological order.
  9. Diary. Diary is a written account of person’s experiences and thoughts recorded each day or every few days. Many people keep diaries as a personal record. Most do not intend that other people read their diaries. They provide an insight into the events and customs of a particular period and place about a writer and his/her interactions with others.
  10. Periodicals.
  11. Instructions manual.

The Differences Between Fiction and Non-Fiction
There are various differences between Fiction and Nonfiction. The following table shows the differences between these two literary concepts.

1. It talks about imaginary people, places, ideas, and experiences.
It talks about real people, real places, real ideas, and real experiences.

2. Some common forms of Fiction are novels, plays, poems, and folktales.
Some of common forms of Nonfiction are letters, biographies, and essays.

3. Audiences of Fiction are the people who look for nonfactual information but that give them knowledge and pleasure.
Audiences of Nonfiction are the people who look for factual information(facts)

4. The purpose of Fiction is to deliver the message of the writer that can instruct, and entertain the readers.
The purpose of Nonfiction is to explain, inform, persuade, and entertain the readers.

5. Most Fiction writings are narrative, persuasive, and entertaining writings.
Most Nonfiction writings are argumentative, narrative and informational/explanatory writings.

At least students should be able to master these terms and their common differences. Several activities can be conducted. For example, students can name any fictional writings they know or they have read on their own time or in the class. Also they can name any nonfictional writings they know or like as far as this topic is concerned

Abrahams, M.H (1971) A Glossary of Literary Terms, Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc. New York.

Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Fourth Course with Readings in World Literature; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Sixth Course; Literature of Britain with World Classics; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

Kinsella, K et al (2003) Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes; Copper Level, Pearson, Upper Saddle River.


Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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