The Difference Between Fiction and Nonfiction

Is all fiction literature? Is all nonfiction literature? 

Fiction refers to literature created from the imagination. Mysteries, science fiction, romance, fantasy, chick lit, crime thrillers are all fiction genres. Whether or not all of these genres should be considered “literature” is a matter of opinion. Some of these fiction genres are taught in literature classrooms and some are not usually taught, considered more to be reading for entertainment. Works often taught in literature classrooms are referred to as “literary fiction” including classics by Dickens, Austen, Twain, and Poe, for example.

Like fiction, non-fiction also has a sub-genre called “literary nonfiction” that refers to literature based on fact but written in creative way, making it as enjoyable to read as fiction. Of course there are MANY other types of nonfiction such as cook books, fitness articles, crafting manuals, etc. which are not “literature,” meaning not the types of works we would study in a literature classroom. However, you may not be aware of the many types of nonfiction we would study, such as biography, memoir or autobiography, essays, speeches, and humor. Of these literary nonfiction genres, they can be long like a book or series of books or short like an essay or journal entry. Some examples of these you are already familiar with, like The Diary of Anne Frank¬†or Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. These works of literary nonfiction have character, setting, plot, conflict, figurative language, and theme just like literary fiction.

Clarification: The test of categorizing a work between fiction and non-fiction is not whether there is proof the story is true, but whether it CLAIMS to be true. For example, someone writing a first hand account of being abducted by aliens would be classified in the nonfiction section, meaning the author claims it really happened. Further, a story in which imaginary characters are set into real historical events is still classified as fiction.