Fiction vs Nonfiction: Definitions, Examples, and Ideas

There are a lot of terms to remember in the world of book publishing. But two of the most important ones are fiction and nonfiction. These two writing terms are similar to a 10,000-foot view. They split all books into two categories, which each have many of their own genres and subgenres

However, things aren't as straightforward as they seem. To complicate things, there can be some overlap between the two categories, so it's important to familiarize yourself with them. And that's just what we'll do in this fiction vs nonfiction article. 

In this article, you will learn:
  1. The definition of fiction.
  2. The definition of nonfiction.
  3. Examples of each. 
  4. How creative nonfiction blurs the line between the two.

What's the Difference Between Fiction and Nonfiction?

The difference between works of fiction and nonfiction is simple: fiction is not true while nonfiction is true. 

In other words, fiction books may be inspired by true events and/or people, but the narrative or significant portions of the story have been made up by the author. Nonfiction books, on the other hand, are entirely based in reality and backed up with facts or objective truths. 

These terms aren't just used in writing, though. Movies are considered works of fiction, whereas documentaries are works of nonfiction. 

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You've probably also heard these two terms used to refer to other things, too. For instance, many politicians have been accused at one time or another of presenting fiction as fact. In other words, lying. 

Likewise, the news is supposed to be nonfiction, but the lines have been increasingly blurred in recent years. And on the internet, it can be very difficult to tell what's fiction and what's nonfiction these days. 

Thankfully, we don't need to dive into politics for our discussion. We'll stick to books. Let's take a closer look at each category. 

What is Fiction? (With Examples)

Sometimes it can be easy to tell if what you're reading is fictional writing. If there are people flying around in tights fighting each other to the structural detriment of the city, you can bet it's a fictional story. 

Other times, it's not so easy. There are plenty of realistic fiction stories that seem like they could happen in real life. The fictional characters are three-dimensional, the setting is a real city, and the storyline doesn't stretch the limits of your belief. But they're all a product of the author's imagination, which is what separates fiction from nonfiction. 

Police procedurals, romances, geopolitical thrillers, and historical fiction novels are often like this. Of course, there are exceptions in every genre. 

If a book says it's a novel, there's a good bet it's a work of fiction. However, there is such a thing as a nonfiction novel, which makes things a little more complicated. More on that later. For now, let's take a look at some famous examples of fiction books.

Fiction Book Examples 

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
  • It by Stephen King
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

Almost all fiction authors bring their own experiences into their stories in one way or another. But the distinction is that the storyline is something that never actually happened. The characters may be inspired by real people, but any similarities are unintentional. 

A thriller author who reads about a bank robbery in the news may use certain aspects of that real-life event in his new fiction book. But this is very different from a nonfiction author detailing the lives of the real person who robbed the bank and the real events that followed. The nonfiction author would have to do extensive research, interview people, and back everything up with multiple sources. 

What is Nonfiction? (With Examples)

Largely, nonfiction texts can be considered informational, but this doesn't mean they're dry or uninteresting. It really depends on the author, the type of book, and the subject matter. 

An informational text on computer coding will be very different from a celebrity's memoir. Likewise, a history book about the American Civil War will be very different from a self-help book detailing proven ways to build confidence.

But all these books have one thing in common: They are based in reality. The nonfiction writer can't just make up random instructions for learning to code. There are certain protocols to follow. 

Similarly, if a celebrity publishes a memoir that turns out to be partially (or fully) fabricated, they will have some very angry readers on their hands. Then again, if the celebrity published the book as a novel, readers would go in knowing that what they were about to read wasn't wholly true. 

Nonfiction Book Examples

  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  • The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

While fiction writing and nonfiction writing require many of the same skills, they are also different in many ways. Obviously, fiction writers need not worry about whether their story is true. They can add a character or take ten away. They can twist the imaginary events to fit their needs. 

On the other hand, nonfiction writing means significant research into often complex topics. Getting things right is of the utmost importance for the nonfiction writer

What is Creative Nonfiction?

Ever since Truman Capote published In Cold Blood in 1966, the line between fiction and nonfiction has blurred. Considered one of the most impactful pieces of literature of the last century, this true crime book is often called a nonfiction novel—something unheard of until that time. This is because of the way Capote wrote the book. 

Although detailing an atrocious crime that took place in 1959, the book reads like a novel. Capote adds enough detail and presents the story in such a manner that critics say there was no way he could've found out many of these things after the fact. He was accused of fabricating scenes to fit the story, as well as making up dialogue. Capote did extensive research while writing the book and insisted that everything he wrote was true. 

Although certainly not the first piece of creative nonfiction writing, In Cold Blood is perhaps the best known. It kicked off what is called “New Journalism” and helped popularize narrative nonfiction, which is exemplified today in many memoirs and true crime books. 

Why Do People Read Fiction and Nonfiction?

In general terms, people read fiction for pleasure. That is, they hope to be entertained when they pick up a fictional book. The form that entertainment comes in differs from person to person and book to book. 

A reader of space opera science fiction likely wants a sprawling, epic story of interplanetary politics and interstellar conflict. A reader of romance likely wants to feel the excitement of a budding relationship and rejoice in a happily-ever-after ending. 

A reader of nonfiction usually wants to learn something, solve a problem, or become better informed. A reader may pick up a nonfiction book to learn a new skill, better their life in some way, or even read about human history. Some of the most ubiquitous nonfiction books are cookbooks, although the advent of the internet is changing this dynamic as we speak. 

Finding Ideas for Fiction and Nonfiction Books

Deciding what you want to write is not always as easy as choosing between fiction and nonfiction. Many writers do both. But finding an idea with a market you can break into can be even harder. If you want to become a full-time writer, or just write a book that improves your bank account, then it's a good idea to do a little research first. 

For this, we recommend using the Publisher Rocket tool. Even with the thousands of books uploaded onto Amazon every day, there are certain markets that are still underserved and hungry for new content. So whether you're a nonfiction or fiction writer, you can use Publisher Rocket to get a behind-the-scenes look at the categories, keywords, and competition on Amazon. 

Writing to market is the best way to succeed in self-publishing. And with Publisher Rocket, you can get insights directly from Amazon on:

  • Which categories have low competition but high monthly searches. 
  • What subgenres you can target when you publish your book. 
  • Whether you should “go wide” and publish on many platforms or try your hand with exclusivity through Amazon's KDP Select program, also known as Kindle Unlimited
  • What keywords and phrases you can use in your Amazon ad campaigns after publishing. 

Learn more about Publisher Rocket here.

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