Thursday, June 9, 2011

Writing Fact vs. Fiction

I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’ve always assumed that this book would be fictional. Over the years, I’ve had ideas and started drafts and they’ve always, always been fiction. So it came as some surprise when the work that I really undertook (read: finished) was non-fiction. Narrative non-fiction, that is, aka memoir.

I shudder to use the term “memoir.” It conjures connotations of high-brow important people droning on and on about their lives. As I’m neither high-brow nor important (and live in fear of droning on about anything), I try to avoid the m-word like the plague. One thing couldn’t be avoided however, and that was that the story I wanted to tell was true.

There are some major benefits to non-fiction. Two that leap to mind: the story’s already there for you, you don’t have to think about things like character development.

Of course, there are also many downsides to writing non-fiction: the story’s already there and you have to stick to it, you have to worry about character disguises so that you don’t get sued for libel or defamation of character, you have to compellingly convey character development and scenery that seem either obvious or you overlooked, and you will inevitably offend everyone that you leave out (“What?! But I thought we were so close!”) or include (“I can’t believe that’s how you see me! That’s not me at ALL!”).

The easy solution would be to do take a fictional “based on” approach. But I’m sticking to straight-up non-fiction because here’s the real value of total, straight-up, un-spun truth: you can get away with so much more.

If you’re writing fiction and you have a scene where something audacious/outrageous/shocking/ingenuous happens, you always run the risk of some smart-ass rolling their eyes and saying, “Oh please…that would never happen.” But with non-fiction, I can include the most outrageous/ridiculous/insane things that have ever happened, and when said smart-ass says, “Oh please...that would never-” I can bust in with, “Oh but it DID! Snizzap!”

(Note that the use of “snizzap” makes it that much MORE awesome.)

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