what is nonfiction

Nonfiction is a genre of literature that focuses on factual events and real people. Explore the definition of nonfiction, and see examples. Recognize the characteristics and types of nonfiction to understand how nonfiction differs from other literature, as well as how literary nonfiction differs from informative nonfiction. Updated: 10/25/2021

Types of Literature

Literature: it’s a big term that encompasses just about every type of written word. It may be overwhelming to think about all the different types of literature, but there are actually two main groups all literature can be categorized under. These two categories are fiction and nonfiction. Fiction includes all written works that are invented or made-up by the author. This includes novels, short stories, and poems. Nonfiction, then, comprises of the written works based on real events. In this way, literature that is nonfiction can help us understand our world. Let’s look closer at the characteristics and examples of nonfiction.

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Characteristics of Nonfiction

There are several important traits of all nonfiction works. Most importantly, nonfiction writing must involve real people, places, and events. The stories told in nonfiction works must be true. If something in the story is made-up, then it falls under fiction. Nonfiction must also contain facts, which are information that can be proved to be true. With this in mind, a writer can select and organize the facts in a number of ways in order to accomplish his purpose. Some facts can be omitted, and others can be shown in a specific light, but overall, facts must be present in the written work.

Most nonfiction works also have a similar author’s purpose, which is the reason the author writes. Most nonfiction is written to express or to inform. If the author’s purpose is to express, the concepts expressed are always based on true, real-life situations. Because of this, one could argue all nonfiction serves to inform the reader, as well.

Types of Nonfiction

Now, let’s look at the two types of nonfiction. The first is literary nonfiction, which includes nonfiction writing that reads like fiction. This means that literary nonfiction includes the elements of fiction, like characters, setting, and plot; however, in nonfiction these elements must be real and not imaginary. The stories are meant to amuse the reader, as well as inform on true stories. Literary nonfiction includes biographies, autobiographies, and essays.

The other type of nonfiction is informative nonfiction. The purpose of informative nonfiction is to explain or inform about a concept or situation. This type of nonfiction exists to provide the reader with factual information. Informative nonfiction includes articles and interviews.

Examples of Nonfiction

There are many types of nonfiction examples in the world of literature. Remember, literary nonfiction includes works written like stories, but based on true events and people. All autobiographies and biographies fall into this category. Here are some well-known autobiographies and biographies:

The numerous literary and creative devices used within fiction are generally thought inappropriate for use in nonfiction. They are still present particularly in older works but they are often muted so as not to overshadow the information within the work. Simplicity, clarity and directness are some of the most important considerations when producing nonfiction. Audience is important in any artistic or descriptive endeavor, but it is perhaps most important in nonfiction. In fiction, the writer believes that readers will make an effort to follow and interpret an indirectly or abstractly presented progression of theme, whereas the production of nonfiction has more to do with the direct provision of information. Understanding of the potential readers’ use for the work and their existing knowledge of a subject are both fundamental for effective nonfiction. Despite the claim to truth of nonfiction, it is often necessary to persuade the reader to agree with the ideas and so a balanced, coherent and informed argument is vital. However, the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction are continually blurred and argued upon, especially in the field of biography;[4] as Virginia Woolf said: “if we think of truth as something of granite-like solidity and of personality as something of rainbow-like intangibility and reflect that the aim of biography is to weld these two into one seamless whole, we shall admit that the problem is a stiff one and that we need not wonder if biographers, for the most part failed to solve it.”[5]

Semi-fiction is fiction implementing a great deal of nonfiction,[6] e.g., a fictional description based on a true story.

Major types[edit]

Common literary examples of nonfiction include expositoryargumentative, functional, and opinion piecesessays on art or literature; biographiesmemoirsjournalism; and historical, scientifictechnical, or economic writings (including electronic ones).[7]

Journals, photographstextbookstravel booksblueprints, and diagrams are also often considered nonfictional.[citation needed] Including information that the author knows to be untrue within any of these works is usually regarded as dishonest. Other works can legitimately be either fiction or nonfiction, such as journals of self-expression, lettersmagazine articles, and other expressions of imagination. Though such works are mostly either one or the other, a blend of both is also possible. Some fiction may include nonfictional elements. Some nonfiction may include elements of unverified suppositiondeduction, or imagination for the purpose of smoothing out a narrative, but the inclusion of open falsehoods would discredit it as a work of nonfiction. The publishing and the bookselling businesses sometimes use the phrase “literary nonfiction” to distinguish works with a more literary or intellectual bent, as opposed to the bulk of nonfiction subjects.[8]

Specific types[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up to:a b Farner, Geir (2014). “Chapter 2: What is Literary Fiction?”. Literary Fiction: The Ways We Read Narrative Literature. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9781623564261.
  2. ^ “”nonfiction” definition via Lexico.
  3. ^ Culler, Jonathan (2000). Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 31. Non-fictional discourse is usually embedded in a context that tells you how to take it: an instruction manual, a newspaper report, a letter from a charity. The context of fiction, though, explicitly leaves open the question of what the fiction is really about. Reference to the world is not so much a property of literary [i.e., fictional] works as a function they are given by interpretation.
  4. ^ The Institute of Art and Ideas. “The Art of Life”. IAI. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
  5. ^ Woolf, Virginia (2010). Orlando. Aziloth Books. p. 134. ISBN 978-1907523687.
  6. ^ The Role of Narrative Fiction and Semi-Fiction in Organizational Studies G. Whiteman. N. Phillips. 13 2006, 12
  7. ^ Susan B. Neuman; Linda B. Gambrell, eds. (2013). Quality Reading Instruction in the Age of Common Core Standards. International Reading Association. p. 46. ISBN 9780872074965.
  8. ^ Archived 2014-02-13 at the Wayback Machine

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