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Fiction Vs. Nonfiction Writing Styles

by Kori Morgan, studioD

Although fiction and nonfiction works can both tell interesting stories, they have significant stylistic differences. While authors invent fiction for the primary purpose of entertaining readers, writers compose nonfiction with the goal of informing them about events, people and places. You can also contrast fiction and nonfiction through their differing forms, use of language and portrayal of different topics.


Fictional stories take two forms: the short story, a brief piece focusing on one main plot that can be read in one sitting, and the novel, a longer work that often features multiple, interwoven plots. Nonfiction, however, is a wide and varied genre that takes multiple forms. Newspaper articles, feature stories in magazines and encyclopedia entries mark nonfiction's smaller structures. Biographies, books about specific historical figures and autobiographies, personal life stories written by the figures themselves, are examples of longer works.

Story Elements

In fiction, the traditional elements of character, setting, theme and plot are crucial to a story's development. Even though the story isn't real, good fiction writers design their stories with such detailed characterization and story development that readers become emotionally invested in its events. Although some nonfiction, like the essay and memoir, can also use these elements, nonfiction's primary intrigue lies in its factual nature. People can read nonfiction for entertainment, but they can also learn accurate, real-life information that can be useful in research papers, personal education or discussions.

Descriptive Language

Another stylistic contrast in fiction and nonfiction is how they use description. Because fiction creates imaginative worlds, descriptive language is a must for portraying nonexistent characters and places, especially when it comes to science fiction and fantasy, which often feature completely invented settings. Although some types of nonfiction, like personal essays and feature articles, do use detail to help readers visualize real-life experiences, many nonfiction pieces focus purely on dispensing information rather than creating a world for audiences. A basic newspaper article, for example, contains basic facts of an event with no description or language embellishments.


Voice is the unique attributes of an author's writing style, including word choice, use of punctuation and point of view. In fiction, for example, voice often conforms to the character from whose perspective the story is told. For example, in her novel "Room," Emma Donoghue uses simplistic descriptions to fit the voice of Jack, her five-year-old narrator. Different types of nonfiction also have different voice requirements. A personal essay might be written in a conversational style that mirrors the writer's actual speech, while an informative essay features a distant, third-person voice that places the focus on the material it teaches readers.

About the Author

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

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