Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Wondrous Words: What's Nonfiction, Anyway?

 


 It's the start of Nonfiction November, and I thought it might be time to take a look at the word, "nonfiction."

So, what is nonfiction?

The whole idea of what nonfiction is can be confusing. Fiction, we tell kids, means something that is not true. Nonfiction is the opposite of fiction. Nonfiction, then, is something that's not not true? Good grief.

From Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Nonfiction is writing that is about facts or real events.

But wait. What is a fact? And isn't all writing about facts or about real events? 

One site for kids explains nonfiction this way: Non-fiction literally means that it's NOT fiction. This means that the content is real and based on truth, rather than made up or created from the imagination.

Based on truth? Hmmm.

From the Random House Unabridged Dictionary: the branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality, including biography, history, and the essay (opposed to fiction and distinguished from poetry and drama).

Opinions? Conjectures? Oh dear.

And what about all those people, including the highly esteemed Mark Twain, who say that fiction is more true than nonfiction? Huh? 

I think it's time to stop talking before my head explodes. 

Help me if you can. What is nonfiction?





Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where you can share new words that you’ve encountered, or spotlight words you love.  Feel free to get creative! It was first created by Kathy over at Bermuda Onion and is now hosted at Elza Reads.

19 comments:

  1. I don't know! Sometimes I see books with "Based on a true story" written on the cover, and I'm like, "So . . . does it go on my fiction Goodreads shelf or my nonfiction Goodreads shelf?" There seems to be a messy gray area between the genres.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the messy gray area is huge. We're more aware than ever that what purports to be nonfiction (news, nonfiction books, etc.) often these days has a decided point of view.

      Delete
  2. "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that." -- said Supreme Court Justice Potter in 1964. This often-quoted phrase (I know it when I see it) seems to work in this case too.

    Otherwise we just have to let the bookstores categorize fiction, nonfiction, and pornography for us.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. History books are classed as non fiction but you have to wonder about some of it which looks like it was made up

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I get frustrated with nonfiction books that have no bibliography, no footnotes, and no index.

      Delete
  4. I think of nonfiction as being just the facts, ma'am. If it's the writer's riff on those facts then its opinion or commentary - which may or may not be true, of course. One has to make a judgement there. Everything else is fiction. And I agree with Twain about that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And if it's a riff, I wish it would be clearly labeled as opinion or commentary.

      Delete
  5. Some non-fiction reads like a novel and when I find one of those, I'm thrilled. I'm both informed and entertained.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me, too. Narrative nonfiction is one of the names for that sort of writing.

      Delete
  6. I am STILL busy with Educated and I sometimes wish it rather was fiction than true events. You truly can't make this sh*t up! I love books that are based on true events, but I do prefer them wearing a fiction jacket. I did plan on reading more non-fiction this year, not very successful at all I'm afraid.

    Tomorrow I will be a bit more relaxed and spend some time on the blog.

    Thanks for always taking part in WWW! I did manage to post mine, it's about 19:10 in SA now.

    Hope you are well Debbie!

    Lots of love,

    Elza Reads

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's particularly hard to read memoirs of people who had a terrible childhood, like the author of Educated.

      Delete
  7. Interesting! I confess I haven't thought about the definition that closely before but as with most things, it's a little more complicated at second glance. :) Anyway I guess for me non fiction is just facts based, as much as is possible- so biographies and whatnot fall into that category obviously- I guess if the book drifts too far from generally accepted facts I'd start to wonder when it's no longer non fiction...

    ReplyDelete
  8. Apparently some of our school administrators here in Texas are not familiar with the concept of nonfiction, including the administrator who cautioned his teachers to be sure to provide alternate points of view about the Holocaust. Hmmm.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My definition is not anywhere near official. But I view non-fiction as well-documented facts with no plot as such. So, historical fiction is NOT non-fiction because things are made up. But a well researched biography or history is.

    ReplyDelete
  10. In my head nonfiction just means something that actually happened and can be documented.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I always had a terrible time explaining to 6th graders that non=not, then having to say, No, non-fiction does not mean not real!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ah! Good question! Now, to muddle it even more, why is poetry classified in nonfiction?

    ReplyDelete

I hope you will leave a comment so I know you have visited. If you stop by my blog, I will always stop by yours.

Note: Disqus commenting is only available on the web version of the blog. Please switch to the web version if you are using a mobile device.