Of Blurring the Line of Creative Non-Fiction

Harry Potter - I must not tell lies

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In the creative writing world the term creative non-fiction always starts an intense conversation.

There’s two sides:

  1. The side that insists that nothing can ever be fabricated, if there are people involved you need to get their permission and/or have them confirm the story as the way it happened, and there are very few liberties regarding details.
  2. The other side is a bit more lenient. They are in favor of the use of the creative license, they care more about the emotional truth than the factual truth, and in regards to details, if wall was yellow but it’s a more powerful scene if it’s black – let it be black.

Personally I fall into the second group.

Here’s how I see it. Unless you walk around with a video camera or notepad recording EVERYTHING that happened in your life EVER right down to the um’s, ah’s, and like’s used in daily conversation, then everything may as well be fiction. For no one wants to read a list of facts, it’s boring. That’s what textbooks are for. There’s a reason that very few people read textbooks for leisure purposes.

I just can’t grasp why people care so much, it’s not like creative non-fiction writers are writing the news. They are writing their story, most likely with the only source being their memory and maybe a friend or two.

The truth is about as stable as a ribbon hanging from a beam. Non-fiction on one side and fiction on the other. Sometimes it goes crazy, spinning and jumping all over the place. Other times it’s flipped up, stuck to the top of the roof – the line vanishes. And occasionally it hangs straight down – forming a clear definitive line of what’s the truth and what’s a lie.

The point is when I’m writing non-fiction I’m not lying, but that doesn’t mean I’m telling the truth. If I were to include a disclaimer this would mostly be what I put:

The following is true, it happened, this is how my brain remembers the event, story, people, weather, and so forth. I’m not lying to you, not that it matters. It really doesn’t matter, the events truth doesn’t matter, what matters is how I remembered it, how it influenced me, and how you as a reader connect to the story. Hopefully you’ll be entertained or possibly moved by the next few pages. This may as well be fiction because I didn’t bother to double-check the exact time or temperature ever when writing this. I repeat, the truth doesn’t matter …. but this is a true story, so you may as well believe me.

From that I’m guaranteed to have people freak out that I’m a liar, and others praise me for my honesty. Even though I hopefully clearly stated where I stand on the issue in a simple little paragraph. The point is there’s no winning these conversations, it’s a dead conversation that loops on repeat over and over. It never goes anywhere, no one ever sees the other’s point of view, no one suddenly jumps from team 1 to team 2 or vice-versa.

What we need is more terms to use for the genre. Like in the way that there’s 50 types of love in the world but the English language only has one word to use, so it’s all in how you say it. There’s 50 – and growing – types of creative non-fiction. But there’s only three terms you can use: creative non-fiction, memoir, and (auto)biography. They all basically mean the same thing and have the same debate regarding truth and lies.

I think people need to calm down and realize that no one is ever going to agree.

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Of Lazy Writers

Once Upon a Time

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I’m too lazy for fiction.

Fiction requires thinking outside yourself. Or taking part of yourself: beliefs, issues, passions, opinions and magnifying that in a realm of people who are … well … not you.

I love writing.

I love reading.

But I hate starting.

Thus, I’m too lazy for fiction.

In the realm of non-fiction I essentially write about me, and I’ll be honest I enjoy talking about myself. And if you’re a creative writer and claim to not – I dub thee a liar. I take an experience that I think others will find entertaining or will touch their soul. I make that accessible and enjoyable through creative prose and metaphor. Sarcastic tone and action. Sincere emotion and simplicity.

Non-fiction is easy. And is typically what I write in my spare time. I can start my assignments two or three hours before they are due and no one would ever guess. No one ever does, nine times out of ten I get rave remarks and have my grammar corrected. Grammar that I didn’t have time to go through and thoroughly revise. Comma happy nazis have issues my work, I am not a comma heavy writer. They, can, get, over, it, let, it, go.

But fiction. Oye!

I’m excited but nervous for my fiction workshops. In this genre I don’t generally view myself as exceptionally talented. I struggle with plot and content. I fidget with characters. I fail at using proper dialogue tags. I spend hours on a few moments only to decide in the rewrite that I don’t actually want to keep that segment. It’s a love hate relationship. But when I do accomplish something that I like and other people respond positively to, I am overjoyed. The personal satisfaction I get from doing something great outside of my comfort zone is a superior feeling to staying where it is easy.

Even so, I’m too lazy for fiction.

Of Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile

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A girl with a guitar and some serious talent.

Have you ever listened to an artist for years? Know every word? And actually BOUGHT the music? That’s right bought! Purposefully chose to support this artist.

You love this artist dearly and feel as though you know them. You spend hours singing in the car or in front of a mirror unable to fathom being able to create such beautiful music. In your mind you imagine that you are on stage, singing these words as if your own. Of course, now they do belong to you. The artist has been kind enough to share their music and let you take hold. Time passes and other artists take over as your top played. Then one day you decide to listen to this artist again and suddenly HOLY SHIT!! An emotional chord was struck so intense it practically brought you to tears. It felt as though everything you had been feeling or repressing was thrust to the surface. Explained in a way so perfect there’s nothing more you could say. There was a perfection to the music that you never noticed until that moment. A perfection which try as I might I cannot express in a blog post. It is something that has to be experienced. I encourage all to seek out such an experience – this will mean stepping away from the Top 40 momentarily.

I recently had such a moment with Brandi Carlile, an indie singer from Ravensdale, WA. And I wasn’t able to stop listening to her for three weeks straight. Everything else I owned seemed to fall short in comparison.

Don’t get me wrong I love pop culture. I love Britney Spears, Bad Girls Club, Tabloids, all of it. But there’s something special about finding an artist who has some meat behind their lyrics.

Excerpt from Pride and Joy

I believe this to be true
Nothing sacred nothing new
No one tells you when its time
There are no warnings only signs
And you know that you’re alone
You’re not a child anymore
But you’re still scared
All your mountains turn to rocks
All your oceans turn to drops
They are nothing like you thought
Can’t be something you are not
Life is not a looking glass
Don’t get tangled in your past
Like I am learning not to

This passage mirrors exactly what I’ve been going through. Especially,  in regards to growing up and learning that the beliefs my family enforced were not what was best for me.

That moment of straddling the line dividing a child and adult.

An amazing live performance with not one but TWO cellos! What more could you ask for?

Of Being a Liar

Liar Word/Face

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For years I’ve been a liar. Not to everybody, just those of authority (bosses, teachers, etc.)  and my family. To the figures of authority I’ll make up why I’m late or not showing up to work, I’ll exaggerate details or even make some up to strengthen my side of a story, I’ll deny petty things that I think don’t matter. To my family I put on a new face. A good face. The face that I think they want me to have – a Christian face.

Being raised a pastors kid certain choices and beliefs were made for me before I was born: live for Jesus, don’t swear, maintain purity and innocence, marry a Christian man, be a witness, the list goes on. The majority of my life I’ve lived in a naive ignorant bubble – unaware of much of the world outside Christianity until I was nearly an adult. Once that bubble popped I quickly realized that I cannot and don’t want to be the girl my family desires. I also knew that informing them of my revelation would be the same as saying “Hey Mom and Dad, your only daughter is going to Hell.” So I did what any rebellious child would do, I lied.

I got very comfortable when lying, and I was good at it. To be a good liar is simple: don’t over complicate your tale, use bits of the truth for credibility, don’t ever admit to fibbing, and if possible temporarily convince yourself that you’re either telling the truth or are correct.

I lied until I was nearing the point of insanity. Frustration towards my family, organized religion, and the Bible brewed inside of me. I feared what they would think if I let them see the version of me that I liked best.  My friends got used to the occasional religion rant, often they chimed in agreement. My boyfriend at the time got used to me complaining about how religion fucked with me. He encouraged me to tell the truth – my friends did not.

Even with superb lying skills I reached my breaking point … this evening actually. Note: not because of my ex-boyfriend, though I am curious how me being honest with my family would have influenced our relationship.

So now my mom knows that I believe in God but have no desire to become involved in the church. She told me she was devastated, that I was throwing away everything, that the devil was devouring me, that she had sensed the lack of spirituality in me, and several stories about her God experiences. But she’s going to think of me with mercy. Eventually I had to stop her preaching. For I have heard it all before and was aware that if I were to say how I feel or think about most things she would listen with an ear of disappointment, there was no chance that she would even consider that I was right. And that’s what I hate about those type of conversations, the preacher never considers adjusting their beliefs. Never.

People say that the truth will set you free. Well, the truth also sucks. The truth in my situation gave me a 70% chance of sermon when in the presence of family. Which I consider rude and disrespectful of me and my valid opinions. Still, I’m glad I finally told the truth, at least I’ve opened the door towards a real, even if uncomfortable, relationship with my family.