Monday, August 08, 2005

Invented Non-Fiction?

I arrived today in Cocoa Beach, FL, to do a two-day NASA teacher-training workshop in conjunction with the launch of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that will (hopefully) launch Wendesday morning about 8 AM Eastern time. As such, my blog updates won't be posted until I get back to the hotel (where I have Internet access) around 7 or 8 PM Eastern or so each night. On the off chance that there is anyone actually following my musings, I thought I'd issue a fair warning...

On the flight over I read two articles in in The Writer that really got my hackles up. Both were on the same topic: how "non-fiction" writing is increasingly becoming "fictionalized." In short, folks, they make it up. This is just wrong. Totally and completely wrong. If the book is non-fiction, the writer had better be able to support all of the major events with researched facts, and not make up events just to "keep reader interest." One of the articles was an interview with an author who uses this technique. She bristled when asked how she blended invention with fact. The author responded that she invented nothing. Nothing at all. But her prose is intended to capture the actual feeling of the people involved, not the specific events of theirs lives.


If you want to write historical fiction (even fiction based on recent history), write historical fiction. Even in non-fiction, no one expects you to get the exact dialogue correct when you didn't do the interview yourself (which is impossible if, for example, the prospective interviewee is dead). But if you make up parts of the book, for Heaven's sake, own up to it. Part of what made your prose so compelling was that we thought we were reading descriptions of real events. When we find out that you made up parts of it to make it more "dramatic," we feel cheated. Frankly, we feel lied to. Apparently, this type of "creative non-fiction" is becoming more and more common. I think these books need to be shelved in the fiction section where they belong, but at the very least, put a disclaimer on inside front cover or something! We have a devil of a time teaching our children that not everything they see on TV or on the Internet is real. Please don't triple the problem by billing these books as non-fiction without so much of a wink in the reader's direction.

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