Nonfiction or non-fiction is content (often, in the form of a story) whose creator, in good faith, assumes responsibility for the truth or accuracy of the events, people, and/or information presented. A work whose creator dishonestly claims this same responsibility is a fraud; a story whose creator explicitly leaves open if and how the work refers to reality is usually classified as fiction. Nonfiction, which may be presented either objectively or subjectively, is traditionally one of the two main divisions of narratives (and, specifically, prose writing), the other traditional division being fiction, which contrasts with nonfiction by dealing in information, events, and characters expected to be partly or largely imaginary.
Nonfiction's factual assertions and descriptions may or may not be accurate, and can give either a true or a false account of the subject in question; however, authors of such accounts genuinely believe or claim them to be truthful at the time of their composition or, at least, pose them to a convinced audience as historically or empirically factual. Reporting the beliefs of others in a nonfiction format is not necessarily an endorsement of the ultimate veracity of those beliefs, it is simply saying it is true that people believe them (for such topics as mythology). Nonfiction can also be written about fiction, typically known as literary criticism, giving information and analysis on these other works. Nonfiction need not necessarily be written text, since pictures and film can also purport to present a factual account of a subject.
Major types of nonfiction
Common literary examples of nonfiction include expository, argumentative, functional, and opinion pieces; essays on art or literature; biographies; memoirs; journalism; and historical, scientific, technical, or economic writings (including electronic ones).
Journals, photographs, textbooks, travel books, blueprints, and diagrams are also often considered non-fictional. 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, letters, magazine articles, and other expressions of imagination. Though they are mostly either one or the other, it is possible for there to be a blend of both. Some fiction may include nonfictional elements. Some nonfiction may include elements of unverified supposition, deduction, 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 bookselling business sometimes uses the phrase "literary nonfiction" to distinguish works with a more literary or intellectual bent, as opposed to the greater collection of nonfiction subjects.
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 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; 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."
Semi-fiction is fiction implementing a great deal of nonfiction, e.g. a fictional description based on a true story.
Specific types of nonfiction
- Academic paper
- Academic publishing
- Book report
- Creative nonfiction
- Design document
- Nonfiction films (e.g. documentaries)
- Guides and manuals
- Literary criticism
- Natural history
- Popular science
- Science book
- Scientific paper
- Technical writing
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- Farner, Geir (2014). "Chapter 2: What is Literary Fiction?". Literary Fiction: The Ways We Read Narrative Literature. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.
- 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.
- "Non-fiction". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, 2015.
- Susan B. Neuman and Linda B. Gambrell, eds. (2013). Quality Reading Instruction in the Age of Common Core Standards. International Reading Association. p. 46.
- The Institute of Art and Ideas. "The Art of Life". IAI. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
- Woolf, Virginia (2010). Orlando. Aziloth Books. p. 134. ISBN 978-1907523687.
- The Role of Narrative Fiction and Semi-Fiction in Organizational Studies G. Whiteman. N. Phillips. 13 2006, 12
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