Friday, January 11, 2008

The Truth

My friend's father prefers non-fiction books.

"You know why?" he said to me. "Because they're true."

I let it go.

I happen to prefer fiction. You know why? Because, in some ways at least, it's truer.

Writers of both fiction and non-fiction use a lot of the same narrative techniques and have to make a lot of the same choices as they craft their stories — what to leave in, what to leave out; where to start, where to stop — so that in the end the difference between a novel and, say, a memoir can be a little hazy.

One of my favorite memoirs, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, was famously exposed as, well ... fiction. Turns out Frey had exaggerated everything that happened to him. And I could understand why. It made a better story. His defense: It was still true on an emotional level.

I can buy that. But he should have called the book what it was: a novel.

On the other hand, even the best biographies and histories and accounts of current events aren't really true. Why? Because writers have to make choices. They can't include everything, but everything they leave out makes the story a little less true.

Everything they add changes the truth of what they've already written.

Novelists make the same choices, of course, but they have more freedom. They aren't hampered by an inability to get all the facts. They can make them up. Yet the best fiction ends up being as true-to-life as the best non-fiction. More so in many cases.


Greg said...

Great post, and I agree with you. ... To your point, the best novels often are the ones you almost have difficulty accepting they are, indeed, fiction.

freshmoss said...

Al healernim!!!

I always love to share your story.
Is it ok to link your blog on the
Because, many members and nonmemebers read the blog.
and I share it with some masters
who are interested in your wrighting.
I miss you. Come to every other
Tue. night @ Fremont.

Mark Richardson said...

I like both. I real how a novelist can create and maintain a peice of fiction. But I also see where your father's freind is coming from: there is something special about something that is, at least ostensibly, true. And shame on Mr. Frey.

Steve Pipe said...

Al, I agree that the best fiction always gets to a deeper truth than the best non-fiction. However, I find that a steady diet of only fiction can be limiting, which is why I sprinkle in a few bios and historic works along the way. "John Adams" by David McCullough, for example, reads like a great sweeping novel, and Doris Chang's "The Rape of Nanking" is just shattering and made me really feel how brutal war can be for civilians, unlike any fictional work I'd ever read about war. It really depends, I guess, on the skill of the writer in telling a story.