What’s “creative non-fiction”?

Yes, this is a real lake and not fictional.

Yes, this is a real lake and not fictional.

This past week I’ve been scouring through some short stories of mine that have been sitting collecting Microsoft dust for years now…in preparation for putting out a collection of stories and poems later this year or early next (tentatively titled “Notes from the Nineties,” which lets you know how long I’ve been sitting on these files). Some of the earliest versions of the stories were written so long ago that MS Word consisted of a single 3.5″ floppy.

What’s a floppy? To quote George Carlin, next person who asks that gets stabbed between the eyes with a pencil.

As I began the tedious process of converting the files to newer, editable forms of word processing software, it occurred to me that much of my fiction is really very thinly-disguised non-fiction. Kind of.

No wonder, then, that in my interview at the Adirondack Journal I was asked whether my novel were autobiographical. (Hint: I never played minor league ball). The question sort of stumped me for a second. Autobiographical? In a certain sense, all fiction has elements of the writer. Words and scenes aren’t just made up from complete scratch. Characters have to be based on what we know of as people, and settings have to be made of what we know of as real places. Creating a fictional world that has nothing at all in common with human experience would (to my mind, at least) be virtually incomprehensible.

So, is my fiction really “non-fiction”? I don’t think so. When I was actively studying (and hoping) to be a creative writer, the category “creative non-fiction” wasn’t used much. I assume that it was known to a certain degree, but we were always told to create “vignettes” or “slices of life.” I.e., the trite “write what you know” claptrap.

And yet nobody who writes fiction can really 100% get away from “what you know.” My characters are all based on people I’ve interacted with, including myself (who else do I know this well?), and anything in my stories that I never personally experienced, I research.

The question I’ve been running into with my short fiction is to what degree it could be seen as “creative non-fiction.” To me, “fiction” and “non-fiction” are sometimes simply a matter of perception. Now that many of my unpublished stories are based on events that happened (in some cases) over 30 years ago, they seem like total fiction to me.

This is particularly true for situations in which the antagonists are no longer around to contest the veracity of the story content.

Which is all a very roundabout of me saying, “This is all fiction, dammit. So there.” Reality is what you can get away with…

7 thoughts on “What’s “creative non-fiction”?

  1. To avoid getting “stabbed between the eyes with a pencil”, I had to Google search what a 120MB disk is! I must have missed those.
    It’s sad that there’s a lost world of data that can’t be retrieved.

    Like

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