Monday, December 12, 2016
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction
Being a writer is becoming more and more unsettling these days. Back in the day, we had two kinds of writing: fiction and non-fiction and they were clearly labelled as to what they were. There were two separate sections in the library to delineate them. We writers knew in which camp we belonged, sometimes moving from one to the other, but staying within the boundaries of one at a time.
We knew, of course, that some types of writing had to be fleshed out a little. Not every single word in a biography or even a memoir was precisely true. Dialogue naturally had to be made up. We didn't have recorders in the era of Abraham Lincoln. Nevertheless, authors did exhaustive research and tried to stay true to the story they were telling.
In addition to fiction and non-fiction, there is, of course, opinion which is some of each. An opinion isn't a fact but it isn't fiction either. As an opinion writer, you are only saying what you believe to be true. In a recent column, I wrote that I believe America just elected a man who may be our worst president ever. That isn't a fact (though it may turn out to be), it's simply my opinion which readers are free to agree or disagree with.
Again, newspapers make a clear distinction between faithful reporting and opinion, labeling different sections of the paper news or editorial.
Newspapers have had to adapt to the new reality though. In the beginning of the presidential campaign, they were hesitant to call a candidate a flat-out liar. They danced around that label by resorting to euphemisms. Finally, Donald Trump's lies became so egregious that they gave us and simply called a lie a lie.
In the last year or so, social media has been inundated with fake news. Some of the writers of these stories have been interviewed. They freely admit to writing sensational allegations which they present as truthful though they are meant simply as "click bait" (another new term in our vocabulary).
I believe, based on my experience, that conservatives are far more likely to accept fake news as gospel. It seems no web article is to fantastic to be believed. They never seem to say, "now, wait a minute, Hillary running a child porn ring out of the pizza shop? Seriously? That's too crazy even for me to swallow." Or they'll pass on the meme that Michelle Obama is a transvestite without question.
Meanwhile, I have been caught a few times posting phony stories. (Our world has become so crazed, it is hard to tell truth from fictions sometimes). Usually, within minutes, one of my liberal friends has called me on it and I have to go back and apologize. We try to correct conservative stories too but invariably, our right-wing friends continue to insist. (Yes, Hillary is a serial killer who sold arms to ISIS).
So here we are in a world where the the red of fiction mixes with the blue of non-fiction, resulting in a kind of purple shade that leaves neither pure . Of course, it is non-fiction which loses out in this transaction because non-fiction depends on purity while fiction doesn't care.