Are Literature and Fiction the Same?

How do fiction and literature differ? Literature is a broader category of creative expression that includes both fiction and nonfiction. In that light, fiction should be thought of as a type of literature.


Literature is a term that describes both written and spoken works. Broadly speaking, it designates anything from creative writing to more technical or scientific works, but the term is most commonly used to refer to superior creative works of the imagination, including poetry, drama, and fiction, as well as nonfiction and in some cases song.

For many, the word literature suggests a higher art form; merely putting words on a page doesn't necessarily mean creating literature.

Works of literature, at their best, provide a kind of blueprint of human civilization. From the writing of ancient civilizations like that of Egypt and China, and the Greeks' philosophy, poetry, and drama to the plays of Shakespeare, the novels of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, and the poetry of Maya Angelou, works of literature give insight and context to all the world's societies. In this way, literature is more than just a historical or cultural artifact; it can serve as an introduction to a new world of experience.


The term fiction indicates written work that is invented by the imagination, such as novels, short stories, plays, and poems. This contrasts with nonfiction, fact-based work including essays, memoirs, biographies, histories, journalism, and other works that are factual in scope. Spoken works such as the epic poems of Homer and Medieval poets handed down by word of mouth, when writing them down was not possible or practical, are also considered a type of literature. Sometimes songs, like the courtly love songs conceived by the French and Italian troubadour lyric poets and poet musicians of the Middle Ages, which are fictional (even if they were inspired by fact), are considered literature.

Fiction and Nonfiction Are Types of Literature

The term literature is a rubric, an overarching ensemble that encompasses both fiction and nonfiction. So a work of fiction is a work of literature, just as a work of nonfiction is a work of literature. Literature is a broad and sometimes changeable designation, and critics may argue about which works deserve to be called literature. Sometimes, a work not considered weighty enough to be considered literature at the time it was published may, years later, acquire that designation.

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Lombardi, Esther. "Are Literature and Fiction the Same?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, Lombardi, Esther. (2020, January 29). Are Literature and Fiction the Same? Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "Are Literature and Fiction the Same?" ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).