How to Read Fiction
When reading fiction, whether for pleasure or requirement, it is important to remember to analyze a few things in the story. Try to figure out the point of view of the piece. Is the narrator directly involved in the story or not? Analyze the setting. How does the setting affect the story? And finally, analyze the characters. Figure out whether or not the characters are flat or round and whether or not they impact the story, and how they impact it (if they do).
The Hobbit, Pride and Prejudice, and To Kill a Mockingbird; these are all popular pieces of writing, but what else do they have in common? These all happen to be works of fiction. Today, we’ll look at what fiction in writing is, how to identify a piece of fiction, and learn the difference between fiction and non-fiction writing. Let’s get started!
First thing’s first: What is fictional writing? Fictional writing is literature that is made from the imagination. Books, comics, plays, and scripts can all be fiction. For example, the novel Alice in Wonderland is a work of fiction. We know this because it is a made-up story and has characters and events that are too abnormal to take place in real life: like talking rabbit,s or food that makes you grow into a giant. Fiction may use elements of fantasy to make a world that is very different from our own, or simply be a story that’s made up yet still resembles our own world.
For example, The Crucible, a play by Arthur Miller, is based on a real event from the past, however, the actual details of the story and characters in his play are made up. This is known as historical fiction. His play focuses on the Salem Witch Trials in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1690s where young women were put on trial for being accused of witchcraft. In that sense, there is a lot of talk about magic in the play, but this is far from any Harry Potter book you might have read. Another example of fiction that more closely resembles our time is the book Holes by Louis Sachar. The story takes place in a juvenile corrections facility in the middle of a Texas desert where the main character and his friends dig holes all day in the sun as punishment. The main character finds himself on an adventure that spans generations, dodging poisonous lizards and a family curse along the way. Though you won’t see any talking animals or aliens popping up in this story, the story of this character is made up from the author’s imagination and is, therefore, fiction.
Unlike fiction, non-fiction, as the name suggests, is literature that is based on facts. Biographies, novels, interviews, and plays can all be non-fiction. Baracoon by Zora Neal Hurston is a written account of her interviews and time spent with Cudjoe Lewis, the last presumed survivor of the Middle Passage. The book retells Lewis’s experiences from childhood in West Africa through his adulthood in a town near Mobile, Alabama. The story of Cudjoe Lewis is of a real person and his lived experiences and is, therefore, non-fiction. With some pieces of writing, the line between fiction and non-fiction is sometimes blurred.
For example, in the play Julius Caesar, his ghost appears before his friend that betrayed him, Brutus, to send a message about his defeat. Obviously, Julius Caesar is a real person, but to believe that ghosts appeared in the story of his real-life makes the play about his life a bit less realistic. The same can be said about the book, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This story is about the life of the author who served in the Vietnam War. What he cleverly reveals midway through the book is that he might have fudged a few details about some of his stories to tell a “good war story”. All these creative embellishments make the reader question what about this story is true or not. Is it fiction or non-fiction?
As you read literature and watch plays or movies, there are many genres and sub-genres that can make identifying fiction and non-fiction tricky. When trying to figure out if a piece of writing is fiction or nonfiction ask some of the following questions:
- Is this piece about a fantasy or made up world?
- If the piece is about a real person or place, are they sharing factual details about them?
- Is there evidence to prove that the details about this piece are true?
Doing this can help you make out which is which. If all else fails, it never hurts to further research the subject of the title you’re reading to make sure the details are in fact true.
Thanks for watching, and happy studying!