One of the most commonly asked questions amongst beginners is the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Many people get confused between the two, so if you are confused, do not fret. When it comes to movies or literature, it’s imperative to have an understanding of their genre. Knowing the difference between fiction and non-fiction enhances your experience of watching a movie or reading a book. It enables learning and helps you pick better books for your taste.
What’s The Difference Between Fiction And Non-Fiction?
In a nutshell, the main difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction is an outcome of imagination, whereas non-fiction is wholly based on facts and reality. Now, let’s dive deep into the two genres to understand them better.
What is Fiction? Explained!
In simple words, fiction is made up. It’s not objective or factual. Stories that are invented out of imagination come under the category of fiction. Some examples of fiction books are novels, short stories, poems, prose, etc. Fiction has an array of sub-genres. Some of the popular sub-genres under fiction are – Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult, Horror, Detective/Crime, Historical Fiction, Magic/Marvellous Realism, Women’s Fiction, etc.
The best part about fiction is that Fiction writers enjoy a lot of freedom as their writing is entirely based on their imagination. However, freedom isn’t synonymous with easy. Writing a book entirely out of your imagination is equally tricky. The author has to create an altogether different world with characters that do not exist and may not resemble real people. One of the most significant differences between fiction and non-fiction is their interpretation. You can interpret fiction in various ways as fiction is subjective, whereas Non-fiction is objective. Every person has a unique perspective on things; therefore, that has a heavy bearing on how they interpret a book. This is why while studying literature, we are repeatedly asked to share what we think about the characters, literary devices, plot, etc. Primarily, when it comes to poetry, poets use various literary devices to put across their thoughts. Often, we don’t know the exact emotion behind a verse, but as readers and students of literature, we have to dig deep and use our perspective to determine the meaning between the lines.
Renowned Japanese author Haruki Murakami is well-known for writing stories that are open to innumerable interpretations. He has a unique way of blurring the lines between the modern world and the magical world. This style of writing is known as Magic or Magical Realism (Check The Magical Realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez for reference), a literary genre categorized under fiction. Another fantastic example is the author George R. R. Martin, who is the epitome of creating an astoundingly vivid imaginary world. His A Song of Ice and Fire series has to be one of the most remarkable fictional series ever. It’s strange how an author creates an entirely different world and gives it life. For instance, J.K. Rowling wrote the fantasy series Harry Potter, and I am sure she had no idea that one day there will be Hogwarts theme parks blurring the lines between fiction and reality. Fantasy which comes under the umbrella of fiction (Check Neil Gaiman’s Unique World of Fantasy and Fiction for reference), sometimes draws inspiration from mythology and folklore. Many people believe in such myths and legends – they think that such stories are real, but they are still categorized under fiction.
A fiction writer makes up the plot, characters, background, and everything out of his/her imagination. Some of that made-up stuff can be inspired by an actual event or a real person. A lot of times, authors take their own real-life stories and fictionalize them for their novels. They may also include some real anecdotes and personal experiences. Even when it comes to characters, sometimes authors find inspiration from the people around them or the people they happened to know. They may include their quirks in their character’s personality. However, it doesn’t matter how much a character resembles an actual person or the similarities between a real-life event and the plot in the book – it will still come under the umbrella of fiction.
Often, real-life stories are adopted by producers to make films. They do not change names or anything, but they may add fictional nuances to the character and tweak the story to make it more interesting. This will still come under fiction and not non-fiction because it’s not entirely factual. For such books or movies, they use the phrase “based on real-life/true events.” This is where historical fiction and biographical fiction come into the picture. These two genres are prevalent. Several books are based on actual events and real people from the World War and the Cold War eras that come under historical fiction because of omission of important information and additional invented nuances. For example, the book The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is based on the real-life story of Lale and Gita, who survived the concentration camps of Auschwitz. This book comes under the genre of biographical fiction. Even though it’s a biography, it still comes under the umbrella of fiction because of additional invented nuances and factual omissions to make the story more interesting for a wider audience.
On the other hand, Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, which is also based on the Auschwitz concentration camp, comes under the genre of psychology and biography, both part of the non-fiction category. Now, this is quite a debatable topic, and people are divided. To understand it better, let’s dive deep into the Non-fiction genre.
What is Non-Fiction? Explained!
Non-fiction is factual and accurate. It’s straightforward and direct. Some examples of non-fiction books are biographies, memoirs, historical books, self-help books, collections of essays, academic texts, etc. These books are written with a lot of caution and expertise, as even a single instance of inaccuracy may land the author in massive trouble. When writing non-fiction, there is no room for ambiguity or vagueness. It has to be one hundred percent factful and accurate; thus, no space for imagination or invention. This is why, while writing non-fiction, authors have to make sure they keep mentioning references.
At the end of almost every non-fiction book, you will find a long list of references. If the author makes any claims in their book or mentions any event or concept, they must include footnotes or add them to the reference page list. This is extremely important as non-fiction establishes facts, and there is no room for inaccuracies there. However, this is not the case with fiction. A fiction writer doesn’t have to provide any such references. Often Fiction writers use quotes from other books. In such cases, they have to make sure they give the original author and the book the deserved credit. Also, with non-fiction, there is no space for different interpretations, unlike fiction. However, authors share their own experiences, experiments, studies, observations, etc., that may or may not be exclusive. Often these thoughts and statements are not universal, yet they come under the non-fiction category.
As a book lover, I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction equally. Every genre has its unique flavor, and although you can pick your favorite, it’s always a good idea to try out different kinds of books to expand your horizons. With every new genre you try, you will figure a new system of reading too. I have separate systems to annotate my fiction and non-fiction books. With non-fiction, I tend to go deeper and try to make the most out of them. Whereas, when reading fiction, I have a more chilled-out approach.
So, let us know in the comments your thoughts on the same. Which genre is your favorite? We would love to hear from you.
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