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Sorting Through Fiction and Non-Fiction Narratives

in Potpourri by

At Delphinium, we often ponder the difference between fiction and non-fiction narrative, and it seems more and more that these two literary distinctions are being blurred. Even though the memoir genre is still thriving, it’s now generally understood that memoirs are embellished, truth laced with invention; and yet it’s also true that many memoirs could not be successfully published as novels. With a memoir, it’s the very idea—or in some cases, the illusion—of confession that makes a book saleable. The premise is that a memoir will attract a reader who can believe they have gone through an experience similar to the one they read about. For this reason, memoirists—and their publishers—may be reluctant to divulge whatever is actually invented.

Could this confusion about fact and fiction, a confusion that arguably is plaguing America on the political and social front, be linked to the advent of reality television? Reality television, after all, is presented as real people in real situations; and yet, if you speak to anyone involved in the production of reality television, they’ll tell you that to be made compelling, to be believed, reality television needs to be scripted. This sounds like fiction to me.

So what is believable?

This is a question that plagues writers–and their editors—and literature is always testing the waters. Books written in a realistic vein deal with this larger question rather easily: their authors, through the prism of their talent, are reflecting the world as they see it. Books written about the distant past, set in a time long before their author is born, have a different challenge of constructing a believable world based on research. But perhaps the most challenging subject matter is the future, the world that has yet to come, and there are certain brave souls who dare to imagine what life might be like then.

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Joseph Olshan is the award-winning author of eight novels. His first novel was Clara's Heart, which went on to be made into a film starring Whoopi Goldberg. His other novels include Nightswimmer and In Clara's Hands. In addition he has written extensively for newspapers and magazines and for several years was a professor of Creative Writing at New York University. He spends most of the year in Vermont. His most recent release is 'Black Diamond Fall.'

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