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Reading Fiction Vs. Non-Fiction

For both readers and writers, it’s hard to tell the difference between Fiction and non-fiction. Basically, fiction refers to the plot, characters and settings that are created from imagination whereas non-fiction refers to factual stories that focuses on actual people and events. However, the difference between both these genres are sometimes blurred as the two often intersect. 


In this post, we will take a closer look on reading fiction and non-fiction and examine what sets them apart.

Defining Fiction  

When it comes to differentiate between fiction and non-fiction, the Associate Professor of Writing & Literature at the New School in New York City, Joseph Salvatore says that he teaches a course on the craft, theory and practice of fiction writing, this topic is discussed all the time. Though all the theories and ideas are challenged and disputed by both the writers and critics regarding what fiction is and its relation to other genres such as creative non-fiction, there are some basic components of fiction. 

Fiction is fabricated and based on the imagination of the author. So, all the novels, short stories, legends, myths and fairy tales are considered as fiction. However, some writers use settings, characters and plot point in fiction based on real-life people or events so as to jump off points for their stories. 

For instance, Stephen King sets most of his novels and stories in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. Though Derry isn’t a real place, it’s based on his actual hometown of Bangor. Moreover, fantasy and science fiction books placed in imaginary worlds often take inspiration from the real work. Examples include "The Broken Earth Trilogy" by N. K. Jemisin, where she uses actual science and geological research to make her world believable and "Deception Point" by Dan Brown that mention’s NASA in the book.

Often fiction uses specific narrative techniques to heighten its impact. It uses rich, evocative sensory detail, the juxtaposition of summarized narrative and dramatized scenes, the different pacing tempos of dramatic and no-dramatic events, the temporary delay and withholding of story information for heightening the complicate plot and suspense in the books. Also, it uses the different point of views of narration including the deep subjective interiority and stark objective effacement, the stylized use of language to narrate events and render human consciousness. 

All in all, Fiction refers to literature that is created from the imagination. The most common genres of fiction include science fiction, mysteries, romance, chick lit, fantasy and crime thrillers. 

Examples of classic fiction books include the following:

1) A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
2) To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
3) Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen
4) 1984 by George Orwell

Defining Non-Fiction 

Non-fiction is the broadest category of literature that are based on facts and reports on true events. The non-fiction books include many categories including histories, business, health and fitness, biographies, crafts, pets, languages, home improvements, essays, art and music, self-help, home decorating, religion, science, true crime, journalism and humor.  

Usually, the non-fiction has a higher standard to uphold than fiction. This is because a few smatterings of fact in a work of fiction does not make it true whereas a few fabrications in a non-fiction book can force the story to lose all its credibility. An instance is when "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey was kicked out of Oprah’s Book Club in 2006 when it came to light that he had fabricated most of his memoir. 



Often non-fiction uses many techniques of fiction to make it more appealing such in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" which is widely regarded as one of the best works of non-fiction in which his descriptions and detailing of events are so evocative and rich that it significantly blurred the lines between fiction and non-fiction. However, it has led to questions regarding the veracity of his account. 



Now, this gave rise to a new trend called creative non-fiction that uses the techniques of fiction to report on true events. Creative non-fiction refers to using literary craft employing the techniques of fiction writers, poets and playwrights to present non-fiction that are factually accurate prose about real people and events in a vivid, compelling and dramatic manner. The goal of creative writing is making non-fiction stories read like fiction so that readers are enthralled by the facts as they are by fantasy. 

Though it’s sometimes quite hard to tell the difference between fiction and non-fiction, especially in the hands of a skilled author, just go by this simple rule: If the book you are reading reports the truth- it's non-fiction and if it stretches the truth then it’s fiction. 

What’s your favorite between reading fiction and non-fiction and why?

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This post first appeared on Nyasa's Book Shelf, please read the originial post: here

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