Write for the Jugular

Fiction ‘n’ Nonfiction Sittin’ In a Tree

Writers can be a bit territorial. It takes so much of yourself to be a writer of anything that people get a little . . .  what’s the word? Prickly?

Yeah, let’s go with prickly. It’s a nicer word than “arrogant” and I’m not really trying to start trouble here. I just want to stand by nonfiction’s side and say that I sanction a peaceful coexistence between fiction and nonfiction. I like them both and they both have a right to live.

What we’ve had for some time now is tolerance between the two camps. Poop on tolerance. Tolerance is an ugly word. Tolerance means “You suck, but since I can’t do anything about you, so just don’t bother me.” What we need is acceptance.

As wars go, this one between fiction and nonfiction is delightfully non-destructive. The worst it gets is just really, really annoying. Fiction writers bust out the Rudyard Kipling (“Fiction is truth’s older sister”) to remind us that news stories, biographies, scientific fact books, and histories are all just works of opinion, really, and, therefore, are not the actual truth. Fiction, on the other hand, is pure. There are no lies, just representations of the writer’s soul.

On the other hand, nonfiction writers condescend fiction as make-believe. Not a word of it actually happened, they say — it even says so in the disclaimer that no part of the work is real. Nonfiction, therefore, is important. Instructive. Real.

Okay, everybody. . . take a breath and relax. Everything’s all right.

The disharmony, at least to me, seems to be over the words “truth” and “fact.” Truth changes, fact doesn’t. Truth is a product of its time and of those who perceive it. Who’s the nicest guy in the world? Ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers, all of which will be the truth to the person answering. No one is lying, they all just see things differently. What’s two plus two? Ask everyone at any point in history, and they will all say four. That’s a fact.

If nonfiction, then, were to be judged on its adherence to inarguable facts, then the only true nonfiction would be mathematics books (not science books, because science changes all the time).  And that would be really boring reading. Even Einstein liked detective stories.

I make no greater point this week than this — it’s all good. Fiction has its value and nonfiction has its value. Both have their strengths and their flaws. So let’s, everybody, stop fighting over which is the more valid. It doesn’t matter.

And that’s the truth.

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