Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fiction or Non-Fiction: is that the question?

When I emailed my story to the writing group last week, I did not identify it as either fiction or non-fiction. This was deliberate. This story most likely falls into the category my friend, Alexander, says is a ridiculous concept: creative non-fiction. Alexander’s perspective is that all fiction is creative non-fiction; well, most, anyway. Regardless, there is some obvious-to-anyone-who-knows-me truth from my life in the story and there are parts I edited for the sake of a better read.

My purpose in submitting the story to the group was to get feedback on whether it did or did not work. Some people thought it was fiction; some thought it was non-fiction. One person said he wished he would have known it was non-fiction, because he would have looked at it differently.

I did not hide the genre out of any ill-will or mean spiritedness – I wanted honest feedback. This piece tends to bring out the pity filter when people think it’s all true. I wanted their opinions based on what they read, not on how much of the narrator’s story is mine.

Regardless of the category writing needs to hold together. The readers need to feel drawn in to a story and it needs to be well written. Should we excuse so-so writing because it was a personal experience? Should we evaluate writing more harshly because we think it was all made up with no feelings attached? The answer to both is, No, of course not. With some exceptions, I’m sure; pretty much everything has exceptions, so why should writing be any different?

I did receive useful feedback and people in the group were honest. But this question of whether or how much of it was “true” and how that affects giving feedback has been rolling around in my thoughts like a marble in a jeans pocket in the dryer.

It’s a story. Do you want to read it or not? Why or why not?

"Sum of My Life"
collage by Dot. c.2007