Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fiction and Non-fiction

It's no fiction. Here's the first daffodil of spring.

The comments on my last blog entry inspired this post. Sia McKye started it with "We can take a 'fact' of science, history, politics, religion, life in general, and weave a story around it with fictional characters" and Lynda Lehmann added, "unimaginative people out there who don't really like to peer out of the hole of their own subjectivity" while Helen Ginger took that a step further with "Why do people think fiction is based on a true story? Don't they realize writers have imaginations?"

The Muse added another side to the discussion, "Don't they realize that a lot of fiction is based on fact?" Kathy McIntosh mentioned, "the insights they could gain by some time with the masters of fiction." Swubird admitted that he read mostly non-fiction but, "Fiction and nonfiction are like like mom and dad. We need both to get the whole perspective." And Caryn Caldwell ended the discussion with "As for readers of nonfiction, I've had a few of them tell me snootily, 'When I read, I want to *learn* something.'"

All these excellent comments made me realize that really we can't have one form without the other. We're born to be story tellers. So we tell stories. All of us. All the time. Whether there's a facts underneath the fiction or whether there's fictional elements within a true story doesn't matter. It's all tales. Think about it. Even the most straightforward piece of nonfiction is structured with a beginning, middle and end. It's how we think, how we order our world.

And who can say what is truth and what is not? This is at the crux of a lot of the non-fiction argument, some people believing that somehow if something can't be proven to have happened, it's a harmful, evil, filthy lie. But except for a scientific fact (and some dispute those) what can be proven? Ask eyewitnesses of an event and everyone will have seen something different. Ask a sibling about memories of an event and be amazed at the difference.

Of course there's an aspect to fiction that can make it much harder to write. It has to be reasonable and logical enough to be believed. To draw the reader into the fiction world. This is not true of non-fiction, read Swubird's excellent and fun, fun blog for examples of hilarious and fascinating non-fiction.

Thanks to all the excellent bloggers who commented on my last post that led to this post.

So, what do write when you write? Fiction? Non? A mix? And if a mix, which is your fav?


The Muse said...

Hello Conda!

When I write, I haven't done a lot of that lately, I will fictionalize fact. Of course most of my current writing is all facts and/or regurgitation of fact.

I have to say I prefer reading fiction based on fact generally.

I don't think anyone aside from the author, or perhaps the subjects, can say what is truth or not. And, I don't care if it is when I'm enjoying a good read, fiction or otherwise.

Believability is a key factor. Also, I enjoy feeling an affinity with the subject/characters.

I hope you have a wonderful Easter!

Caryn Caldwell said...

I agree - I think we need both fiction and nonfiction out there. I mostly read fiction, but sometimes I need nonfiction, too, either for entertainment or for straight-up learning. Like when I just bought my new - and very complicated! - camera. As for writing, my books are fiction, but my blog is nonfiction (mostly of the memoir sort), so I guess I do some of each.

Conda Douglas said...

Muse, I enjoy reading fiction based on fact too. I think because it's fiction, the writers can explore the characters/people more and because it's based on fact, believability is there.

Conda Douglas said...

Absolutely, Caryn--thank heavens for some non-fiction, like manuals! And your blog is always jam-packed with fun non-fiction stories.

Helen Ginger said...

I'm writing non-fiction right now, but prefer fiction. I think the trick is to base your fiction on reality and make it so believable that people go looking for towns or settings in your book, when in reality you made them up. In other words, make your fiction real.

Anonymous said...

I've completed two novels (neither have sold) that spring from true incidents.

Truth is often more entertaining than fiction, and perhaps that's why nonfiction is the best-selling genre in the book world.


Kathy McIntosh said...

Great post. I get many of my ideas from reality. Like my character Roadkill, who makes his clothes from found animals. Anyone who reads my drafts thinks he's a great piece of fiction. Yet, I ate breakfast with him!
And I love the facts I get from the fiction I read.

Conda Douglas said...

Hello, Helen! Yes, if you can get your fiction to seem to be nonfiction you may very well be a bestseller--witness "Bridges of Madison County." I never of a number of women who were planning a "tour of Madison County" to see the bridges. Never happened.

Conda Douglas said...

Yes, Bob and as I said--Nonfiction does not have to be logical, make sense or be believable--it happened! And expanding a true incident into a novel is a lot of work, congrats to you for doing so--twice!

Conda Douglas said...

Kathy, TMI! TMI! about Roadkill! Yuck from your writing partner.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Great post, Conda! I like how you recapitulated and linked the comments from your last post to give this one its meaning.

Even in what we call "reality," it's such a mix of subjective and objective aspects and elements, that one can hardly separate them. I think this is another of the great paradoxes of the human condition: that each of us has our own personal version of "the truth," and that each of our stories is true yet at the same time, refuted by those versions that oppose it!

Conda Douglas said...

Thanks Lynda, and without my fellow bloggers such as yourself, I wouldn't have the marvelous stimulus for my entries.

And yes, it's all perception.