Truths Must Be Bent: A Fiction Writer’s Lesson on Writing Non-fiction

First and foremost the writer must remove herself from the narrative. That person you’re writing about may share the same name as you. She may even still have the same bangs and sneakers that you’re wearing or kissed the same boy sophomore year in high school, but, dear fiction writer struggling with non-fiction, make absolutely no mistake, that character is not you. She is an invention. She can’t possibly be you because she is stabbed to a two-dimensional canvas and must be fixed in a certain light, rendered and scrutinized from a particular angle. We know that the light shifts as time shuffles us forward and that angles are infinite, that the real body, living and breathing, waxes and wanes as the tides, but that person who you trace with pen and paper is not real. She is simply an adumbration, a shadow, an outline, a spirit that can almost be grasped. As narrator, you must be cool. Your interpretation of what happened to you in seventh grade must be handled with an icy touch, so frigidly cold that you literally freeze those moments you’re depicting into a suspended and crystallized state. Objectivity is the means in which you wield your words and images. Yet, its not the ultimate end. The point is to tell a story, so you must make decisions for the sake of that story. Truths must be bent, flourishes flaunted–only to emphasize the purpose and intent. Non-fiction writers, any experts out there, please stop us, if this counsel seems misguided.

Otherwise, remember that Memory and Imagination are married to one another. Sometimes they fight. One supercedes the other, and truth gets lost in the clash, but, like any working marriage, they know better than to fuss too long. A good row only feeds the writer’s fire, and, Fact, in the end, is only a well argued and beautifully crafted idea.

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