Fiction vs Nonfiction: What’s The Difference?

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles W. Eliot

What’s your favourite book? Worldwide bestseller Harry Potter, or science book A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawkings?

If there’s one thing these two books have in common, it’s that they are representative works of their genre. Books can be divided into two main categories: fiction and nonfiction. Although they are very different, each one has its own unique set of characteristics and purposes. Come with us today as we explore the worlds of fiction and non-fiction books.

What Is Fiction?

Fiction refers to stories that are made-up. While most of the story might be fictional, certain elements (e.g. plot, characters) are often based on true happenings, influenced by real people etc.

Unlike non-fiction books, fiction is subjective and largely open to personal interpretation. Works of fiction also tend to be written from different points of view as opposed to just a single one (i.e. the POV of the author himself/herself).

In fiction, emotions are often conveyed through the usage of figurative languages such as idioms, similes, and metaphors. As such, they usually come across as more personal and heartfelt.

Novels, plays, narrative poetry, and myths are some examples of fiction. Genre-wise, fiction encompasses a wide range of genres with the likes of chick lit, science fiction, and mystery.

Fiction makes us laugh, cry and smile. A good work of fiction makes an impact, even beyond its very last page. It leaves emotions – sorrow, happiness, anger etc. – lingering in its wake, and perhaps lead to many a solidarity night spent pondering the intricacies of life.

Notable works of fiction

  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

What Is Nonfiction?

“Writing nonfiction of various kinds has been instructive and entertaining as well as paying the rent.” ― Katherine Dunn

The keyword for nonfiction is #fact. Nonfiction narrates events that are actually true – either they happened in real life, or are based on scientific research etc.

Whilst boundaries are practically non-existent in the world of fiction, nonfiction writers are required to back up their statements with proof such as references. They are not allowed to simply write whatever they want: fabricating facts is a big no-no, and will likely cost the writer his/her entire career.

Nonfiction is objective and mostly written from the perspective of the author. Such material also tends to be more “to the point”, as the purpose of non-fiction is usually to educate. This means no flowery language, fewer ambiguous words such as “think” and “feel”, and the inclusion of statistics, diagrams and charts to better illustrate the points stated.

Nonfiction includes (but is not limited to) the following: biographies, diaries/journals, research reports, and articles. Whilst typically dismissed as “boring”, nonfiction can be every bit as interesting as their fictional counterparts. This genre is essential to our everyday lives – I think at some point or another we’ve all seek comfort in a self-help book, or get engrossed in a good biography.

Notable works of nonfiction

  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susain Cain
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Conclusion…

All in all, the fiction-nonfiction dynamic is one that is complementary: the world can’t do without either genre.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up a book from your local library or bookstore, and start reading today!

If you’d like to explore fiction just a bit more, here’s something for you on the Genres Of Fiction Books.