Nonfiction, Fiction, Faction, or Informational

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Am I the only one taking advantage of all the webinars online right now? Earlier in the week, I watched the Children’s Book Insider video with author Tod Olson. Olson has written a wide variety of books, but on the video he discusses two of his most popular series, "Lost" and "How to Get Rich."

"Lost" is narrative nonfiction, nonfiction that uses scenes to tell the story. The scenes are often so realistic that you feel like you are reading fiction but the characters, dialogue, setting and events are all 100% factual and carefully researched. In "Lost," the stories are about people who get lost and must fight to survive. Lost in the Amazon is about Juliane Koepcke, a 17 year-old who falls from an airplane and lands in the Amazon rainforest. Stranded and alone, she has to survive until she can find help. 

"How to Get Rich" is a series of historical fiction books that are published as found journals. The claim is that this journal, written by a real life person from the appropriate time and place, has been found and published. In How to Get Rich on the Oregon Trail, Olson combines historical facts, all carefully researched, with a fictional wagon train family. The events are realistic, the voice is purely fictional.

Just as much research goes into the "How to Get Rich" titles as the "Lost" titles. But one series is nonfiction and the other fiction. Yet reviewers, interviewers and even librarians have mistaken "How to Get Rich" books for nonfiction. When the interviewer, Laura Backes, pointed this out, Olson laughed. He explained that it is fiction. 

“There is a genre right now, some editors are calling it faction,” said Backes. “It’s fiction but it’s so closely based in fact that you almost can’t tell the difference.” 

Backes and Olson discussed how much research goes into historic fiction but he insists the "How to Get Rich" series is fiction. “I’m a hard ass about everything,” said Olson. “If you are going to call a book nonfiction, everything has to be sourced.” 

Huzzah! I got so excited I almost jumped for joy, but I was on the treadmill. As a nonfiction author, the term faction makes me squirm. Strongly based on fact with fictional elements? To me (and Tod Olson) that’s fiction. 

Another similar term is informational. An informational book teaches readers, often young readers, about something factual using a fictional framework. Again, Tod and I would call that fiction. 

There is nothing wrong with faction or informational books. My all-time favorite graphic novel is Clan Apis. It tells the story of a bee hive. The bees are anthropomorphic. Among other things, they talk. With speech bubbles. I consider it fiction but I’ve seen it described as faction. 

Another great book is the picture book Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jamey Christoph. The story is told in first person plural (we) from the point of view of the wall. Remember what I said about talking bees? I consider this book fiction but I’ve seen it described as informational. 

If fiction and nonfiction are good enough for Tod Olson, they are good enough for me. But here’s the thing. He’s found editors and publishers who use these terms the same way he does. 

If you write a fact based book with a fiction narrator and your editor wants to call it faction? That’s between you and her, my friend. 

You just need to know the terms so you know what you’re calling your book. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins October 5, 2020) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins October 5, 2020). 


Sioux Roslawski said...

So I've been using a term in the wrong way, I guess, because I've always used informational and nonfiction about the same pieces.

I certainly think "faction" is a way for people to learn about something in a way that makes it more enjoyable and easily digestible.

Webinars? I've only listened to one. I guess I should check some of them out...

Margo Dill said...

Faction (a new definition of it) will make it's way into the dictionary soon, I bet.

People are so creative with their language, but I'm with you about really there's just fiction or nonfiction!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Well written fiction, non-fiction and faction can all teach. But I doubt that you are using "informational" wrong. Just because editors use it one way, doesn't mean that teachers use it the same way. Isn't that part of what makes language a hot mess?

Ugh. Too true.


Jeanine DeHoney said...

Great post Sue. I too prefer either fiction or nonfiction when it comes to genre. I haven't taken advantage of any webinars online but I hope to soon. The Authors Guild has some informative webinars I am definitely interested in watching.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Sue, I haven't heard of faction--thank you! I simply love all these new genre hybrids. I'm personally leaning more towards autofiction for my memoir because it allows for more freedom. I figure I'll write it, then define it later, but I appreciate having more options than the fiction/nonfiction binary. ;)

I'm attending the upcoming Fall Memoir Boot Camp starting next week, which are live zoom webinars. I can't wait!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Good luck finding just the right webinar for you!

Ha! I knew you would mention autofiction. Memoir is a different beast. Good for you re: the Fall Memoir Boot Camp! That's perfect for you.

Renee Roberson said...

I had never heard of the term faction either. You learn something new every day! All I know is that Olson's books sound really cool and I wish my kids had read them when they were younger! I'm kind of with you and tend to label things historical fiction rather than faction anything else. Or non-fiction, but I"m boring that way.

Cathy C. Hall said...

So much going on in the non-fiction world these days, it's hard to keep up! Thanks, Sue, for the mini-lesson.

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