Defining Nonfiction Writing

man in nonfiction section of library with books

Andersen Ross / Getty Images

Etymology: From the Latin, "not" + "shaping, feigning"

Pronunciation: non-FIX-shun

Nonfiction is a blanket term for prose accounts of real people, places, objects, or events. This can serve as an umbrella encompassing everything from Creative Nonfiction and Literary Nonfiction to Advanced CompositionExpository Writing, and Journalism.

Observations

  • "I see no reason why the word [artist] should always be confined to writers of fiction and poetry while the rest of us are lumped together under that despicable term 'Nonfiction'—as if we were some sort of remainder. I do not feel like a Non-something; I feel quite specific. I wish I could think of a name in place of 'Nonfiction.' In the hope of finding an antonym, I looked up 'Fiction' in Webster and found it defined as opposed to 'Fact, Truth, and Reality.' I thought for a while of adopting FTR, standing for Fact, Truth, and Reality, as my new term."
    (Barbara Tuchman, "The Historian as Artist," 1966)
  • "It's always seemed odd to me that nonfiction is defined, not by what it is, but by what it is not. It is not fiction. But then again, it is also not poetry, or technical writing or libretto. It's like defining classical music as nonjazz."
    (Philip Gerard, Creative Nonfiction. Story Press, 1996)
  • "Many writers and editors add 'creative' to 'nonfiction' to mollify this sense of being strange and other, and to remind readers that creative nonfiction writers are more than recorders or appliers of reason and objectivity. Certainly, many readers and writers of creative nonfiction recognize that the genre can share many elements of fiction."
    (Jocelyn Bartkevicius, "The Landscape of Creative Nonfiction," 1999)
  • "If nonfiction is where you do your best writing or your best teaching of writing, don't be buffaloed into the idea that it's an inferior species. The only important distinction is between good writing and bad writing."
    (William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 2006)
  • The Common Core State Standards (US) and Nonfiction
    "One central concern is that the Core reduces how much literature English teachers can teach. Because of its emphasis on analysis of information and reasoning, the Core requires that 50 percent of all reading assignments in elementary schools consist of nonfiction texts. That requirement has sparked outrage that masterpieces by Shakespeare or Steinbeck are being dropped for informational texts like 'Recommended Levels of Insulation' by the Environmental Protection Agency."
    ("The Common Core Backlash." The Week, June 6, 2014)