02 Aug

Interview Across a Breakfast Table: Should That Story Be Fiction or Non-Fiction?

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On her blog and here, my wife and I continue our interrogations of each other…

Jenny: When the world around you sparks a story idea, how do you decide if it’s best told as nonfiction or as fiction inspired by real life?

Me: There’s hardly ever any gray area for me here. My nonfiction projects tend to begin with my discovery of an actual, amazing fact — or with my awareness of an actual person’s life filled with amazing facts — and so weaving those facts into a piece of fiction would be counter to the exciting sense of OH MY GOSH CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS REALLY HAPPENED? that I get at the moment of discovery.

A lot of my fiction stories do begin with my observation of something in the world around me, but those somethings are usually commonplace. It’s not the somethings themselves that hook me, but rather the series of what-if’s that my mind conjures up, that make me want to try turning those somethings into stories.

The one exception that comes to mind is a musician whose story I wanted to tell. I heard about her on a radio show when the host mentioned in passing an anecdote that seemed so vivid and telling that I knew it would be at the heart of a story I had to write. But the information and documentation that I would need about that episode and the musician’s life at that time in order for the story to be nonfiction — those did not exist, and my would-be subject had already died, so I couldn’t ask her. In that case, I did write a fictionalized story based on what I was able to learn — with that first striking anecdote front and center.

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