Creative Writing Fiction 10 min2023-04-25 00:00

What Is Fiction?

what is fiction

One of the most important categorizations of writing is the difference between fiction and nonfiction. There are countless types of books that count as fiction, from sweeping fantasy epics to quiet family dramas.

So, what exactly does the term fiction mean?

The short answer is that fiction refers to writing created from the imagination. The term fiction encompasses everything from novels to short stories to plays.

Read on to learn the meaning of fiction and some of fiction’s most important characteristics.

What Is a Fiction Book?

Before we get into fiction characteristics and examples, let’s start with a quick definition of what the word fiction means.

Fiction Book Definition

Fiction is literature created from the imagination.

fiction definition

The word fiction comes from the Latin word fictiō, which is defined as “the act of making, fashioning, or molding.” So essentially, a fiction book is a story that’s made and molded by the author.

Fiction Books Meaning

It’s one thing to understand the dictionary definition of fiction, but you can also go deeper when understanding what the actual meaning of fiction is.

You can think of a fiction book as any book that isn’t intended by the author to be taken as fact.

Some fiction books are based on true stories or include real people, but they still count as fiction as long as the author used their imagination to reinterpret what really happened.

Of course, not all fiction comes in book form. There are many forms of fiction, including short stories, novels, graphic novels, and more.

There are also many genres of fiction, such as literary, fantasy, romance, and mystery. Each genre has its own conventions, tropes, and styles.

The opposite of fiction is nonfiction, which is a term we use for work that’s supposed to be read as factual. Nonfiction books include memoirs, biographies, self-help books, science books, and other books that are based on fact rather than imagination.

Why Do We Read Fiction?

There are many different reasons people read fictional stories. A fictional story can serve a variety of purposes, such as entertaining readers, inspiring people, or provoking a cultural conversation.

why people read fiction

You might read a novel just to escape into a fictional world for a few hours. A story can entertain you when you feel bored, motivate you when you feel apathetic, or uplift you when you feel hopeless.

It’s a common misconception to think that nonfiction is designed solely to teach, and we design fiction solely to entertain. But this isn’t the case. Fictional stories can teach us truths about the world we can’t learn in any other way.

Some of these truths are factual truths, such as a historical fiction novel that gives us well-researched details about what it was like to live in a different time period. More importantly, fiction also teaches us emotional truths, such as a novel about characters going through struggles that resemble the ones we’re going through in our own lives.

Reading fiction can help us understand ourselves and our societies in a deeper and more nuanced way. Seeing characters engage with their own relationships and goals can give us a better perspective on our own.

Fiction Examples

The best way to understand any form of writing is by seeing it in action. Let’s look at some popular examples of fiction within several genres and categories.

Fantasy Fiction

Fantasy is a speculative fiction genre that involves some element of magic. Fantasy stories draw on elements from legends, fairy tales, mythology, and the imagination. 

Some fantasy stories are set in a fictional world that looks nothing like the world we know, with made-up species like orcs and elves. Other fantasy stories are set on Earth, either in a historical time period, in the present day, or in the future, with only minor magical elements.

Some examples of fantasy books include:

  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

  • The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

  • Babel by R. F. Kuang

Science Fiction

Science fiction explores speculative questions related to science and technology. Science fiction stories might involve robots, AI, space travel, bioengineering, cloning, time travel, and many other elements.

Some well-known examples of science fiction books include:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Dune by Frank Herbert

  • The Martian by Andy Weir

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Horror Fiction

Horror is a genre that’s designed to elicit feelings of fear, shock, and dread.

Horror stories often involve speculative elements such as ghosts, zombies, and haunted houses. Many authors use these elements to critique the flaws of modern society or to elucidate deeper themes about the human condition.

Some fantastic examples of horror stories include:

  • The Shining by Stephen King

  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

  • “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Mystery/Crime Fiction

Mystery and crime fiction are genres that focus on a specific crime, such as a murder or robbery.

Mysteries, also called “whodunits,” usually follow a character trying to figure out who committed the crime and why. Other types of crime fiction might follow the criminal or focus on other aspects of the crime instead of the process of solving it.

Some examples of mystery and crime novels include:

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

  • Still Life by Louise Penny

  • A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Romance Fiction

The romance genre includes all books that focus on a central love story. Usually, romance novels follow a budding relationship between two characters and conclude with a happy ending.

There are countless tropes romance readers can choose from, such as enemies to lovers, childhood friends to lovers, and second-chance romance.

Some examples of romance novels include:

  • Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

  • Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

  • Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Historical Fiction

Historical fiction describes stories that are set in the past. Most historical stories focus on accurately conveying what it would have been like to live in a different time period, from the foods characters eat to the way they think and behave.

Historical novels take place all over the world, from ancient Mesopotamia to the American Civil War.

Some examples of historical fiction novels include:

  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

  • Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is a term for fiction that doesn’t fit cleanly into a specific genre. Stories in this category usually focus less on following specific conventions and more on experimenting with language and theme.

Many bookstores and publishers split up literary and genre fiction because these two types of fiction typically target different audiences. Genre fiction (such as fantasy, horror, and romance) is usually plot driven and often very commercial, whereas literary fiction is usually character driven and less commercially popular.

Some examples of literary fiction include:

  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

  • Normal People by Sally Rooney

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Short Stories

Not all fiction comes in the form of a full-length novel. Short stories are a literary form that can usually be read in a single sitting.

A short story can range from about 1,000–7,500 words. The average short story has a smaller scope than a novel, often focusing on a single event or a single idea.

word count guidlines for fiction

Here are some examples of famous short stories:

  • “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian

  • “Mother Tongues” by S. Qiouyi Lu

  • “The Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

  • “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury

Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is a term used for stories that are even shorter than short stories. There aren’t universal guidelines for what counts as flash fiction, but most publishers define flash fiction as stories that are under 1,500 words.

There are also some subcategories of flash fiction that get even more specific about word counts, such as micro fiction (under 100 words) and the six-word story (6 words exactly).

Writers of flash fiction have to focus on conveying a lot of meaning in a small amount of space. It’s a very concise art form.

Here are some examples of flash fiction:

  • “Sticks” by George Saunders

  • “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid

  • “Vengeance” by K-Ming Chang

  • “Curriculum” by Sejal Shah

  • “Black Jesus” by Venita Blackburn

Characteristics of Fiction

There are certain defining characteristics that you’ll find in almost any work of fiction writing. Here’s our breakdown of five common characteristics.

characteristics of fiction

Characteristic 1: Well-Developed Characters

One of the strengths of fiction is the ability to introduce readers to a character that feels compelling and real, even though the character is completely imaginary.

A well-fleshed-out character should have motivations, fears, and flaws that feel human. When we read fiction, we feel like we know the people we’re reading about.

Fictional characters often develop and change as the story progresses. They might make positive progress as they learn crucial lessons about themselves and confront their own flaws, or they might make negative progress as they lean harder into their worst traits.  

Characteristic 2: Engaging Plots

Every work of fiction has a plot. “Plot” is a word we use for the events that happen within the narrative.  

Some plots are fast-paced and full of action, packed with new plot twists that keep the reader guessing. Think of mysteries, thrillers, and action-adventure novels.

Other plots are slower and simpler, with just a few key moments that change the characters’ lives. Think of family dramas and literary novels.

Characteristic 3: Exploration of Themes

Every work of fiction engages with certain themes. Sometimes the author doesn’t even intend for all those themes to be there—they just naturally emerge when readers engage with the text because the human mind instinctively searches for meaning.

A story might explore the complex balance between independence and community. Or it might explore the ways we handle grief.  

Characteristic 4: Use of Literary Devices

Many authors use literary devices to make their stories more effective.

Literary devices can include metaphors, allegories, flashbacks, and symbolism, among many others.

An author might use a simile to draw a connection between two disparate things. Or they might use a flashback to reveal parts of a character’s past that shed more light on who they are now.

Characteristic 5: Genre-Specific Tropes

There are many genres of fiction, and most of these genres have been around for a long time. That means each genre comes with a set of reader expectations.

So, most genre fiction books contain tropes that fit their genres.

For example, most romance readers expect some kind of meet cute between the two love interests at the beginning of the story and a happily ever after at the end.

Similarly, most mystery readers expect some kind of crime to be committed at the beginning of the story and an explanation to be provided at the end.

Final Words on Fiction

There you have it—our complete guide to what fiction is and what makes it stand out. We hope this article helped you understand the defining characteristics of fiction stories. And if you want to learn more about writing fiction, check out our articles for fiction writers.

Good luck, and happy writing!

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