February 9, 2010

In Which I Sin Yet Again

I’ve had an epiphany of sorts today. My thinking about nonfiction has been all wrong. Let me enumerate my sins.

My first mistake is to collate the many forms of nonfiction into one. The structure of a newspaper story is nothing like the structure of a magazine feature. The structure of a personal essay is nothing like narrative nonfiction.

Second, I’ve accused nonfiction of being reductive. Some nonfiction ~ for example, newspaper stories ~ is reductive by its very nature. But there is a lot of nonfiction that seeks to do exactly what I do with fiction. That is, it seeks to reflect the world in all its ambiguity. It seeks to use (what I think of as) the tools of fiction to reflect lived life.

So my biggest sin is to think reductively about nonfiction. There is a broad span of fiction ~ the pulp story complete with stereotypes and predictable plot to the litarary short story that refuses to have a plot ~ just as there is a broad span of nonfiction ~ newspaper article to nonfiction book on a single subject.

Mea culpa.

What I’m Reading Today: My friend C.D. Mitchell’s nonfiction piece “This, Too, Is Vanity” at storySouth. This heartfelt wonderfully well-crafted essay is what got me thinking about nonfiction today. As C.D. puts it here, “In memoir, we do not take a podium and say ‘I did this! I am great!’ We instead take the podium and say, ‘This happened to me. Please forgive my ignorance. I have learned from the experience and am a better person as a result. Forgive me for what I was before; learn from what I am now.’"

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