by Heather Murphy
This should have a subtitle that says something like “Why Fiction Rules and Non-fiction Just Sits There,” because of my bad attitude. I get one of those when I’m feeling defensive, regardless of whether I’ve been criticized or not. But I do believe it, too. Fiction rules! It can make animals talk and create entire houses made out of chocolate if it feels like it, because fiction is the bomb diggity. Hmmmph, so there.
You might have guessed. Someone has recently been making remarks about fiction as if it perhaps had a little too much fun at the party, maybe laughing too loudly, having too much wine. Remarks that might possibly have hinted that fiction was basically a K-Mart shirt, and non-fiction was a stately building, made of stone.
It wasn’t a big deal, really. I think I’m taking it too personally. But I don’t care. The comment was from a fellow writer, feeling stuck, or feeling exposed because of how nonfiction had left her with no emotional privacy. It wasn’t really directed at me, it was just sort of off-the-cuff. She said that she might just start writing fiction. She’s said this before, like she was saying “I should have gotten a business degree instead, this isn’t working out,” but with no intention of getting a business degree, because that would be soul-killing and it was just something to say, something outrageous. But this time she said, “because then you can just hide,” afterwards.
And something in me recoiled in anger. The righteous wheels started spinning in my brain as I immediately began an inner dialog that kept me from hearing much else that night. I was thinking things like “if this line of thinking is logical, then cameras should have rendered painting obsolete,” and “nonfiction writers are self-centered narcissists! They just tell their own stories and express their opinions and perceptions, endlessly! They don’t have to create jack shit!” And even, “this is why reality tv is the dominating genre on the tube and there aren’t as many creative shows like “Northern Exposure,” because people prefer to peek into your fucking closet!”
Crafting fiction is not easy. Writing poetry doesn’t exactly allow you to “hide.” Recording what has happened to you or to the world and putting an interesting spin (opinion) on it is probably not easy either, and I love a good essay, but I’ve grown tired of countless memoirs and interviews, tired of the constant rehashing of reality! I need to escape! And reality is not a place people escape to.
See how I got all rattled and ended up mouthing off, here on my blog? It’s not because I have anything against nonfiction–I write essays and micro-autobiography all the time! In fact, it never would have occurred to me to make these remarks had I not felt defensive about crafting mostly fiction as opposed to non. I just do what I do. But it got me thinking and I do see this pattern of obsession with other people’s dirty laundry and I do see the increase of narcissism. Not in my friend, but in the genre of non. And I see why it has taken the lead in the publishing world. The thing is, fiction actually has the ability to completely nail down the quintessence of the human condition. Fiction is still watching when everyone else has left. It knows why you do the things that you do; the things you would never record or reveal. Fiction keeps going when you’ve decided you’ve had enough. It doesn’t leave certain parts out. It takes notes while you are dreaming and constructs collages with your experiences, your history, and makes art of them.