Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fiction, Non-Fiction and Somewhere in Between

We all know the difference between fiction and non-fiction. It's something we learned in elementary school. Fiction is a story from someone's imagination, not real. Non-fiction is the other beast and can be in different forms. Textbooks, memoirs, biographies, or just a story told that really happened. That's what they are in their simplest form, but what about the in between books that are both?

A lot of us remember the controversy of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces I'm sure. If not, here's a quick back story. Oprah picked the book as one of her book club selections. Mr Frey came on her show, as all the author's do who are lucky enough to be selected. He talked about his heroing experience through battling a drug addiction. Some of his stories were outrageous, but believed. Then it started to come out that the stories were partially true, but how much? James Frey was blamed for lying, the publisher was blamed for selling the book as non-fiction and even Oprah was slammed by the media. People had felt like they were misled. They were, to a certain extent.

It leads me to wonder, do people read a book, whether it is truth or fiction, for entertainment value, or something more? I was never a huge fan of non-fiction until recently. I'm in the middle of reading Columbine by Dave Cullen. It's a facinating breakdown of what happened before, during and after the terrible tragedy that took place at Columbine high school. The author dedicated his life since the shooting to this book and it shows. I know everything that I'm reading is real, it happened, or I'm told that the events took place as they are written so I have to believe it, right? I want my non-fiction as entertaining as any fiction book I could read. If I wanted a book to read like a textbook, I'd go back to school.

Then there is the in between books. I think most authors use their own stories in their books. It's only human nature. You are who you are due to your life experiences, right? So where do those books lie? Ellen Hopkins' Crank is based on experiences she lived through with her daughter, but it is fiction, because the story isn't exactly how it happened. She uses her life experiences in her books, but it's still fiction.

I'm currently working on a story along the same lines. I lived it, yet I'm changing the story because honestly, it makes for a better story when I bend it. I won't be pitching it as a biography, memoir or non-fiction, but there will be truth to it. I don't care if readers know that I lived some of it, all I care about is if it is a good story.

What are you thoughts on non-fiction and books that use a large portion of truth to tell a good (fictional) story?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pimp My Line: Or…Bland Verbs / Weak Descriptions

When revising, it’s amazing how you can transform a scene, or thought, or sentence, by cranking up verbs, adding details and character quirks. For example, the following sentence is good and functional.

He walked into the busy room.

We have a subject, “he” (an un-named, expendable crewman perhaps?), a verb, “walked”, and a setting, “busy room”. But what we don’t have is the reader’s attention. There’s nothing here to grab, thrill, confound, or perk their interest.

The sentence is a lost opportunity. As a writer of flash fiction (as well as longer works), I’ve learned it’s possible to tell an entire story in as little as 50 words, complete with plot, character, setting, and conflict.

Here’s my second pass at that functional sentence:

Kyle burst into the guy’s john, did the happy dance as he passed a line of shocked faces at the urinals, and then bolted himself in a stall. “Lactose intolerance…” He gave them a single warning.

So, what did I really do here? I gave the character a name, a more active verb and an unusual setting. Then I expanded, pulled my writer’s camera back a bit from Kyle, and gave the scene some perspective. I included the urinal users as he uttered his dire warning. That small bit of dialogue gives us his motivation and hints at the scenes outcome.

Now, if I can do all that in just 36 words….what can YOU do to tweak your work-in-progress today? I dare you to find even just one functional sentence and crank it up.

I’d love to read examples. If you’re keen for a challenge, or could use a writer prompt-ish activity on this fine Monday, then take this sentence and run with it (posting your work in a comment would be marvy!).

Pimp My LINE: She wished everyone would go away.