How to Distinguish Between Fiction & Nonfiction Literary Genres

The saying "truth is stranger than fiction" sometimes applies to literary works. Determining if a book is fiction or nonfiction can sometimes prove difficult. Some books are labeled as fiction while other books are labeled as nonfiction. When these labels do not appear clearly on the book, evaluate the content of the book and determine if it is fiction or nonfiction. Evaluate the two literary genres through a combination of common sense and research.

Step 1: Determine the nature of the content. If the book you are looking at is a biography, autobiography, historical text or deals with material that lists facts and figures, it is likely that you are reading a nonfiction book. If the book deals with mythical creatures, or uses facts but creates a dramatic storyline rather than researched facts, the book is probably fiction.

Step 2: Look on the side of the book. Most books will list whether they are fiction or nonfiction accounts.

Step 3: Evaluate whether the book is based on a person's life story that only changes the names of the characters, but keeps everything identical, or if the story is only loosely based on the writer's life. If the writer only changed the names but stayed true to the facts, it may classify as nonfiction, provided this information is disclosed in the text.

Be aware that the line between fiction and nonfiction is blurry. A memoir may be based only loosely on fiction and fall somewhere between fiction and nonfiction. When in doubt, consult the publishing company of the book to determine the literary genre the text falls under.


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