Non-fiction is an account or representation of a subject which is composed of facts, true or untrue. It is one of the two main divisions in writing, particularly used in libraries, the other being fiction.
Essays, journals, documentaries, scientific papers, photographs, biographies, textbooks, technical documentation like user manuals, diagrams and journalism are all common examples of non-fiction works and fiction within any of these works is usually regarded as dishonest. Other works can legitimately be either fiction or non-fiction, such as letters, magazine articles, histories, websites, speeches and travelogues. Although they are mostly either one or the other it is not uncommon for there to be a blend of both, particularly non-fiction with a dash of fiction for added spice.
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. Whereas the motivation for fiction is often simply what entertains the authors themselves, the reasons for producing non-fiction have more to do with informing a readership. 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 also vital.
As the word non-fiction is obviously derived from fiction it may be assumed that fiction is the earliest of the two. Cave painting, arguably one of the oldest forms of human expression, could be either a record of what prehistoric man caught on hunting trips or alternately a story expressing what they would like to catch on future occaitions. If cave art is ambiguous on this matter, cuneiform inscriptions which hold the earliest writings seem to have been initially for non-fiction. Some of the most important symbols in cuneiform represent goods such as oxen and barley and the earliest texts in existence deal with the buying and selling of these items and other economic matters, although fiction was not far behind.
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. It probably eaisly outweights fiction in the amount that has been produced but fiction generally has a longer lasting appeal as it is designed for entertainment and even rather mediocre fiction survives a few generations. The non-fiction which 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 which 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 superceeded 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.
Types of non-fiction
Last updated: 08-17-2005 20:02:21