Writing: Fact and Fiction

On writing fiction and non-headaches...

Part Two: A Response to a Response

When I wrote yesterday my thoughts on writing fiction, it evoked a great blog response from Mike in his blog rock and confusion titled "Headache vs Non-Headache." He writes that he thinks there is some truth to my feeling "there is a line between writing fiction and non-fiction." He continues on to state that the line does get a little "fuzzy" and he points out a few things that put a new and different perspective on that line for me.

I went into writing fiction thinking there was a distinct line between the two but it was a bit of a false assumption on my part; especially since I also went into it with the underlying premise that "real life is like fiction and vice versa." How's that for a duality of simultaneous thought? I have more clarity now on those ideas because as Mike points out, five people can observe a train crash and write five different accounts of it, since each writers point of view will be from another angle. It's a factual nonfictional event, but are the five separate versions of what happened fiction? No, because they are based on fact, as each observer interprets and recalls them through the vision of their lens.

He also points out that good fiction is "as clear and honest as the best non-fiction." He's correct that most of us don't read a good piece of fiction and think the writer "made that up really well!!" A very artful observation.

I do think that how the fiction writer operates and originates their work is a result of how they operate out of that creative space in their mind. Some writers approach fiction as storytelling that has an element of truth in it or based loosely on some real events or facts they've strung together in their own way to make a story. Others operate out of a pure fantasyland in their mind that is capable of conjuring up wonderful stories that you believe. It's a vision in their head of what they would like to see happen and transport the reader to. Believability is an important factor for me, which is why science fiction has never appealed to me. Some fiction is pure fantasy and not possible but delightful to the reader nonetheless.

So to turn this whole topic on it's head, I would also add it is not only what the writer is trying to convey but also what the reader is willing to go along with in believing the writer.

Personally my nature is very grounded in fact and what could really happen. That doesn't mean it's the only way to write or read, merely where my head wants to go. I say "read and let read" whatever suits your fancy. I now know more what mine is from this experience.

Probably the most telling observation I received from my fiction in workshop is that the readers "learned a lot." That was their way of saying they didn't feel they were reading a story but a recounting of place, people and events. I need to write one more short story for this class and workshop but this time I think I'm going to go the way of a spare, minimalist style with a simple story line with two characters and their dialogue. That is because I know very little, unlike most participants in this class and writing workshop, about how to develop characters, story lines, plot, themes and so on. It's not the talent I've nurtured and developed over the years. The story I write will be what it is.

What I do know how to do is recount in vivid detail and good prose actual places, people and events. Written as nonfiction, my version is what I think happened or is happening, it may differ from the way four other people might interpret the same things. A writer writes, I write, whatever it is called is irrelevant.


  1. This gives me even more to think about than your previous post did, which is saying something.

    I think your thought that "it is not only what the writer is trying to convey but also what the reader is willing to go along with in believing the writer" completely sums up the issue for me, though I had never thought of it that way until you said it. The first thing that hit me was remembering the Roald Dahl books I read as a kid, "James And The Giant Peach" in particular. Even then I was grounded enough to know that a kid couldn't live with his two aunts inside a giant peach, but somehow I was willing to let Dahl tell me what their lives were like. I haven't read the book in decades but I really should find it and read it again because I remember that there was a lot of dialogue in it, and I think that adds to the "believability" of anything. If someone is telling yo something, you almost have to believe they exist however impossible the chances might seem.

    I'm with you on science fiction. I have nothing at all against it and I think it's cool that people like it, but it's just not my thing. I've always felt bad about not appreciating it but I don't. I can admire the creativity necessary to make completely different worlds, but I guess I'm too attached to this one to want to escape it totally. Besides, there are millions of places to "hide out" here; I can hop a train with Johnny Cash or wonder what Faulkner's Emily is up to, and I can do that (and so much more) without ever having to wear uniforms and speak extraterrestrial languages. That's lucky; I'm a slow learner.

    I could go on and on, but I'll shut up. But not before thanking you for posting this and bringing the whole discussion up in the first place, and especially for considering the possibility that the whole fiction/non-fiction debate might be the readers' decision to make rather than the writer. It's all very interesting to think about.

    Thank you again, sir.

  2. What really got me thinking on the road of "what the reader is willing to believe" is our mutual distaste for science fiction. I agree, it's fine it other people want to read it, it's not for me. In your YouTube vlog when you talked about no matter how many times people tried to get you to read it, you've tried to read it and so on, the idea really hit home with me because that's my experience with it. I also admire the creativity that goes into it but it's not for me, it's escaping too far to a place to strange for my taste.

    I like the reality of this world with a tinge of imagination and adventure, which is why your Cash and Faulkner analogies appeal to me also. This entire class/workshop experience has been good for me and this discussion has definitely firmed up my ideas about it all.

    Thanks for the commenting, vlog and the exchange! Good stuff.