Friday, May 1, 2009

Fact or fiction?

Writing in The Independent, Tom Sutcliffe asks the question: Did you love the whaling bits in Moby Dick or find them a tedious ordeal?

I found them an ordeal, actually, and tend to skip what Sutcliffe calls the facts in fiction. The reason? Cynicism. I don't read fiction to read a recitation of facts. Details about how to kill a whale don't need to be factual -- plus it might encourage someone to do it, or think it's an activity that's worthwhile to do. Such "factualism" in fiction encourages behavior which ought to be discouraged -- like enlisting in the military so you can accurately describe what it feels like to kill another person.

Coincidentally, I also tend to skip the fiction in the (supposedly) factual or, as it is known, "New Journalism," which proved to be so successful that some journalists began writing the fictional elements of a story then looked for facts to fit the story -- and we were fed stories about crack babies and a fake addiction.

Don't get me wrong: I love both fiction and nonfiction writing. I just prefer them "separated," like the food on a child's plate. Otherwise the facts stall the narrative thrust and "journalists" lets words sell lies.

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