Is Nonfiction Really Nonfiction?

I think every child learns pretty quickly that there is a big difference between what is imaginary and what is real. Even if there might be a grey area of things that may or may not exist (like ghosts), most things in our lives fall into the two categories. You are a sale’s clerk, but you dream of being an actress. You imagine hot vampires exist, but you know they don’t.

The same applies to books.

There is a very firm line between fiction and non-fiction. Right?

Maybe not.

Since going to college, reading a lot, and studying many topics, I’ve noticed a worrying amount of non-fiction seems closer to fiction.

Let me explain.

“Creative” Non-fiction

This was a term I first learned about in my college writing classes. Basically, it means taking a non-fiction incident and embellishing on it. The embellishment could be slight or it could be massive, but either way it changes the story.

This always bugged me. For me, truth is the truth. Why do you need to embellish the truth?

I understand that a history book is rather boring if only known, proven facts are stated, however if a “non-fiction” book is filled with fictitious dialogue and assumptions, does that make it less non-fiction?

This is a question that has disturbed me for years. Every time I pick up a non-fiction book, I am skeptical of whether the author is trying to accurately portray something that happened, or if they are taking a real story and offering their own spin on it.

Let me just say, there are many amazing fiction books that feature non-fiction incidents, characters, etc. These I don’t mind because they never claimed to be non-fiction. But what bugs me is the author making up a story or fictional scene surrounding a non-fiction incident and then plastering it with the non-fiction genre.

“Creative” non-fiction is just another word for fiction about something that really happened.

Selective Truth

Recently, I was watching Airiang News (South Korean news in English) and they were talking about Hashima Island in Japan. For those who don’t know, Hashima Island is an abandoned island on which sat a coal mine. During the time the Japanese occupied Korea in the 1930s and 40s, Korean forced laborers were brought to the island to help mine coal. Now that the island is reopening to tourists, Japan is attempting to claim that the Koreans merely helped the Japanese.

While this isn’t a lie, it’s certainly not the full truth. I see this on a daily basis, both in politics and in non-fiction books, especially when the author has a certain agenda (and I know few authors who do not).

The author may not lie to the reader, but instead simply leave out important contextual evidence that would completely change the topic/person they are talking about.

This is what I’m talking about when I mention selective non-fiction.

How often I have read one non-fiction book and gotten a negative view of a person/historical incident, and then read another book and gotten the exact opposite opinion. With this, I start questioning, “What is the truth? Which one is right?” Certainly, if I read twenty books on the same topic and seventeen agree, I could side with the majority. But that does not necessarily make the majority right.

It is one thing to agree that World War II existed, but it is entirely another to speculate about the motivations/inspirations of Hitler.

Finding Truth

I confess, I read every book now, especially non-fiction, with a grain of salt. I may enjoy the book as a book while still rationally contemplating the lack of factual data. I could do years of research on one topic in order to form my opinion about it, but let’s face it, no one’s got time for that.

I’m not saying that non-fiction has no semblance to reality, but I’m begging every reader to take information with a grain of salt. Do research on an author to understand where they are coming from. Differentiate fact from “creative” non-fiction. And do not assume just because you read one book that you know anything about that topic. I’ve made this mistake before, and then more thoroughly researched the topic to find out I knew nothing.

By the way, I’m not critiquing anyone who wants to write creative non-fiction. I’m just saying that creative non-fiction is just another word for fiction. Just because the incident within the story is real does not mean that the story is the truth.


This post feels like a rant, but it’s been something that has been bothering me for a long time about non-fiction books. It makes me question what pushes creative non-fiction too far into fiction? It’s a hard call to make.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Let me know your opinion in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

4 thoughts on “Is Nonfiction Really Nonfiction?

  1. Interesting post. I think it’s definitely becoming more difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction in books these days. Many novels aren’t so much novels as autobiographies. Although Historical Fiction has long been a popular genre, and its readers fully aware the stories are merely based on actual events, it’s important they are categorised as such and not published as History. There, I think the confusion begins.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely take all historical fiction books with a grain of salt, but those books published as non-fiction and have fictionalized scenes are the ones which really bother me. At least historical fiction is honest about what it is, whereas non-fiction claim to be entirely non-fiction, but aren’t always so. Thank you for your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to admit that I have the same thoughts as this rant. I question everything I read and not just take it for what it is.

    Liked by 1 person

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