Because I’m hard at work on my first novel, I’ve had reason to spend some of my time on the differences between fiction and non-fiction. All of my previous work – books, blogs and miscellaneous editorial assignments – has been non-fiction. An easy distinction is to differentiate events that actually occurred versus those that were created. Whether it is the subject matter or a new set of discoveries, I am finding that there is more fact to fiction than I previously believed.
Let me provide an example. There are four major characters in my novel that takes place primarily in Poland during World War II. They are characters defined by extraordinary accomplishments and they overcome obstacles that few of us who are alive can imagine.
Although I develop their characters within the plot I have constructed, I now prefer to think of these characterizations as biographies. Yes, I realize that biographies require subjects who are alive or have been at some time in the past. But it’s much more gratifying, historically and authorially, to depict players in my book who could very well have existed. And if my purpose (at least one of them) is to commemorate and honor those deserving of recognition, why not believe that they existed at some time, whether or not in the geography of my novel?
As I run through the catalog of the literary works that I’ve digested, I subject that many included persons or occurrences that were actual components of these authors’ lives. In The Great Gatsby, (one of my favorite books) for instance, Fitzgerald generously alludes to parties that he had attended in Long Island, NY. Through those experiences, Fitzgerald intricately relates the greed, frivolity and corruption – all traces of reality that typified the Roaring Twenties of the US.
Because I’m also a fan of Stephen King, it may represent a more formidable exercise to find truth in his numerous creations. At the same time, King is fastidious about detail and I suspect that his work is founded in history and embellished by his incredible imagination.
No, I’m not positing that true fiction is impossible (or fictional, if you like). I’m simply suggesting that any decision regarding the genre of literary work may be a little blurrier than it may initially seem. Shalom.