Sunday 8 July 2012

Historical Fiction vs Historical Fact - Part 5

Links & Opinions

An interesting article: "Why Fiction is Good for You" by Jonathan Gottschall

(Dr Gottshall is an English professor at Washington and Jefferson College, writing for The Boston Globe.)
It underlines some of the things we've been discussing here.
One thing that worries me here, however. It's the impression that lying is a good thing.
Yes, appealing to the imagination can be a more powerful change agent than appealing to the intelligence. But we cross the line when it affects our major decisions and leads to disaster. An example of this is Hollywood's  glamorization of casual sex. Studies and reports from sex counselors have shown that the best sexual fulfillment is found (especially for women) in committed relationships. It's the consummation of a relationship, not the basis for it. Our family law courts are a tragic witness to this fact.
Yes, we have to grow up, and learn to know when to turn on the imagination, and when to turn it off so we can function properly in life.

A link to a series of audio interviews entitled "Writing Fiction vs Non-fiction"

The introduction says it all:

"When you read a piece of nonfiction, you naturally expect that  you’re reading the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Right?  So how would you feel if you found out that the author of an essay you’re reading was taking certain liberties with the facts to make the piece more captivating?  Would you feel betrayed?  Or wouldn’t you care?  In this hour, we’ll examine the question of creativity in creative nonfiction.  How much is too much?"

I especially found the interview with Jonathan Lethem interesting. Here he talks about his role as a novelist, which he explores in his new book, "The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, etc."

The line between fact and fiction sometimes blurs, doesn't it!
Does this give us writers the licence to lie? After all, you have to get the reader to read the facts in the first place. If the bare facts are too boring to read, they should be ... well ... sexed up a little bit. Right?
What worries me here is that if we are "sprung" after ... you know ... using that little white lie to spice it up a bit ... just that bit of exaggeration ... if that's ever exposed, even just once, we lose our credibility.
Getting a reputation for absolute honesty is hard work, but it pays long term dividends. A really good writer can, in my view, present the story as it really happened, but in an engaging manner that doesn't compromise his/her integrity.
Writers must be up front about whether they're writing fact or fiction.

I particularly like this quote from a posting in a discussion at :

Leon Garfield said, 
"The historian, if honest, gives us a photograph; the storyteller gives us a painting."

The post then goes on to say:
Give me your opinion. The historian gives us the facts, but the storyteller gives us fictional characters with real life experiences of actual people and true events in history. I read this historical fiction novel all about how the people tried to survive during world war 2 and how it affected them. The author incorporated real experiences that he got through research. I was surprised how much I learned about how that war had gotten started and how Hitler deceived the people at the very beginning. It was an eye-opener to me.

An interesting comment here from editor A. J. Sobczak called "Fiction or Non-Fiction -- True or False?

Note how many of these articles and interviews recognise that what we always accept as "Fact" is, in fact, a different form of the absolute truth coloured by our perceptions, belief systems, prejudices and sometimes our private agendas.

In future postings, I intend to discuss the role of our World View in writing.

Finally, a blog post from author Kaye Dacus.

I took note when she said that she "doesn't read a lot of non-fiction by choice."
In fact her " fiction to nonfiction ratio (not counting research books, remember) is at least 100:1 (100 fiction books to every 1 nonfiction book)."

I guess there's no surprises there. It just highlights the influence that fiction has on the mind of millions of readers -- for good or for not-so-good.

That's all in this series for the moment. Maybe we'll get back to it if any worthwhile & relevant info comes up or you have a question that needs a longer answer than a mere comment.


  1. I liked the piece by Sobczak (what a name!), particularly where he suggests that you cannot directly equate "facts" with "truth". They are not the same thing. Truth requires inner insight, an understanding of intent, it takes some investigation past what the plain eye can see.. not only plain facts. Factual truth as we know it today is a very Renaissance-inspired, modernist, science-framed understanding of what Truth is. We are all bound to this way of thinking about the world. I think it's a limited one. Too often we fall into the trap of presenting truth as a series of facts, without recognising our own vast assumptions. Or if we do recognise some of them, we simply write off other explanations as degenerate or out of date (the idea of "progress" being a modernist presumption).

    A hermeneutic or theory of Truth needs to take into account other world views from times past (e.g. the ancient Hebrew one - a very different idea of Truth to ours), and present, ones outside our own.. and perhaps we even need to work towards a newer, deeper, broader understanding.. (you will kill me for this, but I do believe that this is partly the project of Postmodernity, at least the philosophical strain).

    Looking forward to your thoughts on world views!

    1. Sorry this took a while. First attempt failed.
      Thanks a lot for your thought-filled comments KA Kroz. What a great introduction to the topic on World Views and Writing.

      Why do you think I'd have you executed/liquidated/sent to Siberia just for expressing your opinion? Discussion and even reasoned debate are encouraged here. Debate but not debacle.
      One of the ground rules I've set here is No bashing over the head with bibles or theo-seminary text books or Dawkin's God Delusions or Korans etc etc allowed!
      Any offender shall be summarily deleted! :[