As a former non-fiction author (magazines, newspapers, radio news reporter, and one book) I know that non-fiction is not necessarily 100% what the category indicates. We choose which bits of truth to report, we quote or describe what seems important to us. Yes, it’s truth, BUT . . . . This is not a slam at news reporters. We all select how we see, understand, and react to any “truth” we’re told. A notorious example of this is the variety of stories law officers can get from witnesses to a single crime.
When I was program chair for a Sisters in Crime chapter in the Ozarks, one of my programs was held in the police department of a small Ozarks. town. The officer who led our meeting arranged several “crimes” that occurred while he was telling about his department’s work. Some of the criminal actions weren’t even noticed by audience members. Others were seen so differently as to be judged not the same action.
Okay, now that that’s settled. What about fiction? For the last twenty years I have been writing fiction, published in eight novels and a number of short stories. While the settings for every one of these is real down to the last doorknob or wildflower, characters and crime are always fiction. Ummm, well, then, how much truth (other than setting) enters into the fiction you and I enjoy reading? And, what about my own stories? What about those of other authors?
I know of news reporters who, stopped from exposing real crimes they uncover because of legal issues, later expose the same crimes in “fiction.” (Note: sometimes this type of fiction can alert law officers and public officials to true crime and cause action to stop it. And exposing dark criminal events can be so close to the truth that they garner death threats for authors. That alone lets us know how closely fiction and fact can be blended.)
But what about people like me, who have led rather average, even dull, lives, and are, so to speak, pulling our stories out of pure fantasy?
Sorry, dear readers. The fantasy is not really the story. The fantasy is that nothing true is in the story. For example: My first novel, A Valley to Die For, had a working title, Hunting Season, and was the story of two killings said to be accidental. Victims were shot by hunters mistaking them for deer. (!) Of course I knew this happened. We lived in the rural Ozarks, heard the gunshots in the woods around us, and, if we went outside, wore orange and sang at the top of our voices, or carried a radio turned loud. Every hunting season newspapers reported at least one shooting by mistake.
So, I simply moved my understanding of deaths in hunting season into a novel. What an excellent way to get rid of a business associate threatening to expose your criminal activities. Right?
And, so it goes. I’ve lived a long life, and in every story I write, I draw upon emotions, events, conversations, and experiences viewed and experienced during that life. Why not? This helps me write scenes where what my characters say and experience rings with truth. Even if it’s not.
Therefore, dear reader, total acceptance of fiction as purely creative story invention, and non-fiction as totally true, should be discarded. In these days when what we see and hear in political campaigns can be scandalous fabrication, (we do know that, don’t we?) it’s best to process ALL stories as what has been called “faction.” We should still enjoy reading whatever is called fiction, and, in non-fiction, be sure the facts we’re told can be verified before we act on them.