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Fiction versus Nonfiction

I’m going to blow my stack … just bear with me. Please fellow teachers, please do NOT teach students that fiction is fake and nonfiction is real. Fiction is STORY and nonfiction is INFORMATIONAL.

You see, it’s simple. You can teach the concept of fiction in a variety of ways. For example … you can explain that it has a main character who encounters a bad guy, conflict, etc and then he has to solve that problem, overcome it  and will change in some way. It’s very easy. If this is too complicated, you can tell children that fiction is a story where there is a main character doing something. But please, don’t say it’s FAKE. It could happen. It could be realistic fiction. Fake is plastic apple;  fake is a phony smile; fake is movie set … fiction is not FAKE. Students get confused with this concept because then when you teach fact version opinion … they get REALLY confused because then they assume that an opinion is fake as well because it’s not real. Struggling readers get very confused with these terms. You see, in my tutoring business, I work with a 14 -year-old who told me last night that fiction is fake and nonfiction is real. Consistently for several years I have heard my young students explain these concepts in these terms–someone has to be teaching them this crazy stuff.

In addition, nonfiction is not REAL. Nonfiction is INFORMATIONAL. If they read a reference book about wizards and mythical heroes through the ages … ummm those characters aren’t REAL. Nonfiction is to inform the reader about an important topic. Plus, there are nuances of fact versus opinion as well. If a biography is written about John F. Kennedy–it could have incorrect facts, it  could be “fake”, the information could have been fabricated. Oh dear, what do they do now?? Is a bad story about JFK now fictional? Or is it a poorly written informational piece?

Bottom line: Fiction is a STORY with a main character, the protagonist … who faces a series of problems called the rising action leading to the point you have been waiting for character to do .. called the climax … and when she solves this problem the actions after that are call the falling action and when all the loose ends are tied up at the end, it’s called the resolution.

Nonfiction is informational … it’s not necessarily meant to be read from front to cover unless it’s a biography or memoir. It’s a resource. It’s packed with facts which can be proved or disproved–that’s another post. Even though biographies are stories about people–they are written in a certain fashion–usually in chronological order. Autobiographies do the same thing except from a different POV.

Please I beg you … don’t confuse their minds with REAL vs. FAKE.


About Ann Gavazzi

Reading specialist and English teacher with a particular interest in treatment of dyslexia. Also interested in education and education policy at large and current reading research. Owner of the Reading Innovations Center, a tutoring center that specializes in one-to-one tutoring for struggling readers and math students.


6 thoughts on “Fiction versus Nonfiction

  1. oh my I’m guilty of using true and not true. But I knew something wasn’t write about saying that when newspapers and magazines are listed under nonfiction. However, everything in newspapers and magazines are not true but based on opinions, ideas, and beliefs that are not true for everyone. I have to go back and fix this.

    Posted by Chandra | September 10, 2012, 10:49 pm
  2. Thank you so much. I am trying to find tips on writing a historical fiction novel, and I am battling with facts vs. imagination. I kept running into articles and such that seemed to say that if I was writing about real people not imaginary, then I was writing nonfiction. But, I am writing a story to entertain. It has characters who work through a problem and a climax and everything. It is not meant as informational material, because I am not just info dumping. I’m entertaining with a story, and the realistic nature can make the story more meaningful. Seriously, thank you!

    Posted by Kaitlyn | October 30, 2012, 1:18 am
  3. This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks so much for posting it. As a child I was confused by the explanations I was given for nonfiction vs fiction. I’m teaching a class on library skills and I don’t want to perpetuate the confusion. Thanks again!

    Posted by Cathy Gltisch | November 11, 2012, 7:14 pm
  4. I write nonfiction using story, so stating that fiction is story as though nonfiction cannot be is not really accurate. My book Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front is a collection of 365 true stories.

    Posted by faithfun4girls | July 11, 2014, 10:45 am


  1. Pingback: Balancing peripheral characters with main characters « Thea Atkinson - February 22, 2012

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