Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

Long before you had awareness of or access to the Internet and the prospects of hosting your online blog site, you were doing a more-or-less equivalent in a series of notebooks and bulking dummy samples from paper manufacturer’s samples, holdovers from your days in publishing where you were responsible not only for editorial selection and editorial quality, but manufacturing as well.

Your earliest records, morphing from diary to journal, then straying into essay or at least examination spanned a time from your late teens onward.  You are able to track various degrees of progress both in your writing style and the content.

This is the backstory to your growing awareness of the tidal natures of fiction and nonfiction in your writing life and outside it.  No telling how much nonfiction you have produced or even any possibility of a reliable ratio of fiction to nonfiction.  Your preference was always fiction, particularly at times when your nonfiction was paying the rent.

These vagrant blog pages are about ninety percent nonfiction, some of which was done to help you work up a sweat while engaging some story or other.

Observation:  Your approach to nonfiction has been to impart information and/or opinion, both facts you have come to regard as detrimental to writing fiction.  The notion of focusing on fiction is attractive, often impossible to ignore.  In similar fashion, the notion of giving up teaching and the drastic rollback of editing are attractive, often impossible to ignore—completely.  You recognize, to the boundaries of accepting the emotions behind the desires, the necessity for continuing in some way because of their contribution to your feelings for story and your ability to employ such techniques of storytelling as you have.

To express it in the simplest terms, you write nonfiction to acquire, process, and store information in your memory and emotional banks, the two places where interest rates are neither pitiful nor at issue.  You write fiction to discover what you know about the human condition.  If, after reading your own fiction or the fiction of any of a number of writers you admire, you discover glaring inadequacies in your own work, you have the standards then of men and women whose work moves you as your pole stars.  From these stars, you have the option of finding your way upward toward higher standards of insight, content, and narrative tone.

You’ve long followed the course of writing at a particular work until you have come to some surprise recognition of a connection or insight you had not experienced previously.  Thus it is no surprise to you that having completed another draft, you move back to the beginning again, in search that defining moment of discovery somewhere.

You have long since come to see how so much of fiction presents information in an oblique manner.  You are particularly fond of fiction because you as writer cannot explain things; the characters and the events have to speak for themselves, inviting the readers into the field of experience as though they were there, eavesdropping.  Within your field of vision, story is not explained; it is implicit in the behavior and sometime non-behavior of the characters.  Nor are you allowed an opinion in fiction as you are in nonfiction.  You owe a kind of integrity toward all your characters.  Writing is difficult enough without this regulatory loophole, but it is a necessary presence; you must be sympathetic with all of the characters, even those who stand against the individuals you’ve chosen to represent as protagonists.  Your opinions reside in the characters you chose, their goals, and their strategies for achieving their goals, but it is fatal for the reader to catch you deliberately loading the deck against a character to make that individual s poster child for negativity.

Nor is it seemly for you to contrive a story along mechanical lines or stop short of revision at the point where you have not been made aware of the connecting links within your characters and the outcome of their story.  You did this enough times in the past to the point where storytelling shut down within you, absented itself for a long hiatus in which the only writing you could venture was nonfiction.

You worked your way out at considerable cost to your sense of wellbeing.  Nonfiction can be subtle, nuanced, intriguing, and elegant in its presentation of complex and fresh insights.  Its overall effect can be as significant and heady as a visit to a museum. This is not to be passed off in a light manner.  Fiction—story—dramatizes for you the exhibitions playing out in the museum of you emotions; if successful, it enters and has effect on your dreams.


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