Novel: Fiction or Non-Fiction?

My boyfriend and I had the following conversation at 3am, and now I’m curious as to how other people view the term “novel.”  His argument is that some definitions of the word are vague on whether it’s simply fiction or if it works in non-fiction as well.

He’s in green with no name, I’m Snuff Film Sweetheart in bold, with purple text. I apologize completely for the train wreck of AIM text… it really just refuses to format properly.

someone asked me today if a novel had to be fiction

i was discribing nanowrimo to him

wikipedia seems to agree with me that the answer isnt completely certain, whats do you think?

Snuff Film Sweetheart

Merriam-Webster says it’s fiction.

Definition of NOVEL

: an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events
I’ve always considered novel to be fiction.  It just seems weird to lump non-fiction into the ‘novel’ category.

does it? they call political commentators “novellists”

does that definition identify it as fiction?

i guess it depends on how you interpret the word invented

Snuff Film Sweetheart

I think the word invented is pretty straight forward.

cant a non-fiction book be an invention of the author?

Snuff Film Sweetheart

A non-fiction book would be derived through experience.

In the definition, they aren’t speaking of the physical product of a book being invented.  In that case, it would technically be applicable to a non-fiction work.

But the invention is the prose narrative.

The actual subject matter.

arent those two different things?

Snuff Film Sweetheart

The book and the narrative, or the narrative and the subject matter?

the narrative and the subject matter

Snuff Film Sweetheart

The narrative would be relaying the subject matter.

So, in this case, they tie together.

right, so in the case of non-fiction writing, the narrative is an original creation of the author

Snuff Film Sweetheart

But the subject matter isn’t invented.

It’s a recount of experience.


Snuff Film Sweetheart

The subject matter can exist independently of the narrative, but the narrative can’t exist independently of the subject matter.  It’s just a tool to relay that which as been experienced or fabricated.
I’m sorry, experienced/researched, to be technical

So I think in saying that the prose a non-ficton author puts on paper is considered his own invention is kind of stretching the definition of the term when used in the context Merriam-Webster has.

And it’s 3 am, so I could be off the mark and jaded by opinion


wikipedia defines narrative as fictional or non-fictional

Snuff Film Sweetheart

Narrative IS fictional or non-fictional.

But a novel is generally defined as a work of fiction.

but it’s a relevant opinion, and i think that’s the point, its an ongoing debate so no most sources won’t directly define the word novel as fictional or non-fictional

even nanowrimo is vague: “In short: If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel too.”

but it also says they define it as fiction

Snuff Film Sweetheart

So that’s not vague at all. XD


i’m not convinced tho, it seems to me that fictional and non-fictional narratives have the same roots, going back to early 18th century romantic works

Snuff Film Sweetheart

Wikipedia also makes it pretty clear that modern use  of the word “novel” differs from more archaic usage.

If you read through the timeline, the word novel has grown into what’s mostly accepted as a means of encapsulating fiction.

that probably has a lot to do with the rising popularity of fiction

Snuff Film Sweetheart

Likely, but still valid.

yeah, it is



Filed under Writing

26 responses to “Novel: Fiction or Non-Fiction?

  1. Interesting debate. A novel is purely fictional. If the book’s based on experiences, it’s a memoir. If it’s based on research, it’s academic. And then there’re self-help, DIY, and yada, yada, yada.

    Some people confuse a ‘novel’ with a ‘book of 100k words’.

    Besides, I’ve never heard of a novelist’s novel that wasn’t fictional.

  2. You talk to deep at 3am! most of my convo’s at that time consists of ‘uhh’ ‘yes’ ‘hmmm’ ‘maybe’ with my typing half eyes closed, half head on the desk!
    But I think a novel = fiction. All the rest have other categories…

  3. Chris Bates

    Looking at the definition of novel, the noun is used to define a fictitious or partly fictitious work. The adjective is defined as: of a kind not seen before; fresh; new; original. This would lend to the fiction view of a novel. Based on these two definitions, I would say that a novel has to be pure fiction, or can be based on some real events, but still fictitious in nature

  4. I consider a ‘novel’ to be fiction.

    The word ‘novel’ implies ‘novelty,’ which is a frivolous pastime, which is also what fictional works of length were considered back when they were new. Read Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert — occasionally their characters will dismiss the novel (aka. a long story) as something silly. Back in the day true accounts were considered the ‘in’ thing to be reading, not some goofy piece of fiction (a novel).

    At least, this is according to what I learned in my Development of the Novel class in college.

  5. Boyfriend

    I’ve come to basically the same conclusion as everyone here. My initial answer to my work associate was that a novel was fiction, I but in thinking of early examples of novels, they were all represented using the same narrative constructs as more popular non-fiction works. Thus it seemed there was an argument to be made that a non-fiction novel was a possibility, but not in a modern context. Kit’s point about following the timeline is the best argument on the topic, and although the criteria of what constitutes a novel is arbitrary, it’s still the only criteria that exists. I was able to present the whole argument to my friend today, and while I’m quite sure he didn’t care, he did seem to understand and agree.

  6. First of all, can I just say that this is an amazing 3AM conversation to have with your boyfriend? :D

    I’ve never referred to a non-fiction piece of any length, shape or form as a novel. I haven’t heard anyone else, either. I guess that in my mind a novel has always meant a work of fiction. For instance, the book “Bird by Bird” that deals with writing and experience has story-like qualities to it because the author writes about her own experience, but I’d never define it as a novel.

  7. Boyfriend

    More proof that a novel must be a work of fiction: Wikipedia says the only distinction between an autobiography and an autobiographical novel is that the latter must be ficticious.

  8. Erin M

    I agree with most everyone; novel = fiction.

    Just wanted to add that categorizing a particular book could get squidgy, like if it was historical fiction bordering on non-fiction, or a memoir/autobiography where some (or many) things were made up, or a book that was passed off as fact or fiction and turned out to be the other . . .

    • That is true. There are plenty of genre-crossers, as well as category-crossers. But I think that a work of non-fiction has to be combed over by people who verify facts, mostly in the case of memoirs. I’d assume works that are created through research are probably looked over by other professionals in that field.

      Publishing is a scary tangled mess.

  9. Ahhhh! Is Snuff Film Sweetheart your AIM? I need to add you as a buddy. Then we can talky-talk. Also, interesting post – – and I love that you have your conversation here.

    • It’s Goggles and Lace, actually. Snuff Film Sweetheart is just my display name because the “user names only” option refuses to take and I didn’t want my name displayed. Lol.

      But yes! Add me! <3

  10. Kit, I need you, name: foreverein message me

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