Truth doesn’t have to be complicated

Once again the writing community is blathering breathlessly about the nature of truth. What are facts and why are they stubborn things? Can true stories be told without tweaking what happened to make the tale more dramatic or compelling? How much tweaking is too much tweaking? What does nonfiction really mean anyway?

This happens every so often. A journalist bends the truth or creates an imaginary friend as a “source” to get the big story to press. A memoir writer makes up events that never happened or people who never lived to help propel a life story into a best seller. An essayist publishes a book detailing an argument with a fact checker that attempts to justify stark departures from reality because those departures allegedly “sound better.”

Unfortunately the latter has led to literary minds once again wrestling with the question of truth and the role of factual accuracy in nonfiction. Thankfully, according to this source, at least one panel of writers apparently understands that the issue is not that complicated.

Truthfully, this is a topic that writers shouldn’t have to discuss. All prose writing can be divided into two categories, fiction and nonfiction. Fiction is made up, even if it’s based on real events. Nonfiction is, brace yourself, not fiction.

Each of these categories can then be subdivided into genres, but regardless of what flavor of the writing, readers bring certain assumptions to the table depending on which category the writing claims to be. Readers assume that nonfiction is, shockingly, not fiction.

Any nonfiction writer, creative or otherwise, who claims they can’t tell a good nonfiction story without altering verifiable facts (such as the number of businesses in a particular location, or whether two specific event took place on the same day) has three choices. One, select a story to tell that isn’t burdened with stubborn facts or inconvenient truths. Two, become a better writer, one that can weave reality into an intoxicating story without tweaking, altering, or outright fabricating. Or, three, write fiction.

It truly is that simple.

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3 thoughts on “Truth doesn’t have to be complicated

  1. Woah, you just spit a whole bunch of truth just now.

    Excellent post. There are plenty of ways to make non-fiction prose jump off the page–or to make “an intoxicating story” as you mentioned–without having to make stuff up.

    It does, however, raise questions about descriptors. It’s easier when the facts are the specific number of businesses or a specific location. However, what about adjectives and adverbs and the effect they have on readers?

    Is it ok to use “gargantuan” when in fact a group of people is merely “large”? “Venomous” when someone was merely a bit upset and raised his/her voice? Did the CEO really “argue vehemently” or raise a simple objection?

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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