Non-fiction or nonfiction is one of the two main divisions in prose writing, the other form being fiction. Non-fiction is a story based on real life facts and information. Non-fiction is a narrative, account, or other communicative work whose assertions and descriptions are believed by the author to be factual. These 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, it is generally assumed that authors of such accounts believe them to be truthful at the time of their composition or, at least, pose them to their audience as historically or empirically true. Reporting the beliefs of others in a non-fiction 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, religion). Non-fiction can also be written about fiction, giving information about these other works. Non-fiction need not necessarily be written text, since pictures and film can also purport to present a factual account of a subject.
Major types of non-fiction
Essays, journals, memoir documentaries, scientific papers, photographs, biographies, textbooks, travel books, blueprints, technical documentation, user manuals, diagrams and some journalism are all common examples of non-fiction works. 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 non-fiction, 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 non-fictional elements. Some non-fiction 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 non-fiction. 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 non-fiction. 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 non-fiction. Audience is important in any artistic or descriptive endeavour but it is perhaps most important in non-fiction. 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 non-fiction 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 non-fiction. Despite the truth of non-fiction 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 non-fiction 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 non-fiction, e.g. a fictional description based on a true story.
Cave paintings, from 32,000 years ago, are one of the oldest forms of human expression and could be either a record of what prehistoric man caught on hunting trips, i.e. non-fiction, or alternately a story expressing what they would like to catch on future occasions, i.e. fiction. If cave art is ambiguous on this matter then cuneiform inscriptions which hold the earliest writings seem to have been initially for non-fiction.
Much of the non-fiction produced throughout history is of a mundane and everyday variety such as records and legal documents which were only ever seen by a few and are of little interest except to the historian. The non-fiction that transcends its original time tends to be viewed as either exceptionally well made or perfectly embodying the ideas, manners and attitudes of the time it was produced, even if it was not actually created as history.
At any one time in history there is the body of non-fiction work which represents the currently accepted truths of the period. Although these non-fiction works may be contradictory they form a corpus that is regularly being altered with better explanations of ideas or with new facts. A good example of this are the non-fiction scientific books and papers which explain the science of the day but are then superseded by better representations. Textbooks for explaining and teaching the current state of scientific and historical knowledge are regularly updated and manuals for operating new technology are also produced.
Specific types of non-fiction
- 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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- 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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