Can you find much difference between fiction and narrative nonfiction these days?
July 5, 2013
What’s the difference between fiction and narrative nonfiction?
Once the lines were clear. Now they’re blurred.
And I’m certainly not saying that’s a bad thing because the authors of both fiction and narrative nonfiction have one goal in mind when they sit down to write their books.
It’s all about entertainment.
It’s all about storytelling.
There was a time when narrative nonfiction was regarded as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That was its hallmark, at least it was in the minds of its readers.
So much for the myth.
The writers of narrative nonfiction must write from afar. They weren’t around – even if they were alive at the time – when everything that happened took place.
They must take the bones of truth and add the flesh of their imagination. They simply find the holes in the narrative and fill them up, being as loyal and as accurate as possible to time and place. The writers of narrative non-fiction were not privy to any of the conversations or those thoughts rambling around inside a character’s head.
So they packed up all the facts they could, looked around, and, if no one was looking back, they made the whole scene up. In a broad sense, it’s probably fairly accurate. But in reality, nonfiction has just slipped into fictional territory.
It may be based on history.
It may be based on letters.
It may be based on interviews.
It may be based on the recollections of others.
But, make no mistake about it. In the end, the writers of narrative nonficdtion make it up just like the writers of fiction do.
I can recall when narrative nonfiction was considered as works that had been heavily and painstakingly researched.
Fiction was written on the fly.
However, the fiction writers I know dig out as many researched facts as they can find before stringing words, sentences, and paragraphs together to create a book.
They pride themselves on their research.
They pride themselves on their homework.
I’ve written both.
And I spent as much time, maybe more, researching material for a novel, such as Golgotha Connection, as I did while tracking down facts for a narrative non-fiction work like Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk.
Both were written with the same style and voice.
Both had plots.
Both had characters.
Both had the twists and turns of subplots.
Both were little more than a collection of short stories, an assortment of scenes that were connected together to form the backbone of a book.
As writers, we don’t mean for the lines to blur.
They just do.
Even the great and acclaimed works of nonfiction – whether it is historical, true crime, sports or biography – are all written like works of fiction.
The reason is simple.
The reader only has these requests.
Don’t preach to me.
Don’t educate me.
Don’t try to persuade me.
And, for goodness sakes, don’t bore me.
Tell me a story.