Why I prefer nonfiction over fiction

Sarahbeth Caplin

35244821086_e8236a33a9_z1-300x200Since I was a child, I’ve dreamed of becoming the next great American novelist. I have published a few novels, and yet none of them are quite as dear to my heart as my two memoirs. I realized something critical about myself the more I’ve devoted myself to nonfiction writing (mostly about the intersection of faith and politics): I’m not very good at making things up.

If there’s anything I’ve learned during my time as a graduate student of creative nonfiction, it’s that memoir writing, and even literary essays, can follow a story arc similar to what you’ll find in fiction: there is a beginning, a development of conflict, a set of characters (even if the only character is the writer herself), a middle, and a resolution. Like fiction, nonfiction doesn’t require a neat, tidy ending. But a decisive finishing point is required just the same.

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2 Comments

  1. Susan Taylor Brand

    This is fascinating; this week I’ve been thinking over my writer foibles and admitting to myself that only recently have I accepted that not everything I write must be fact-checkable. There is a rhethoric of “real life” and then there is a rhetoric of the mind … and they’re both complete. Memoir is so powerful because it incorporates both types of story — the “it really happened” and the “emotionally true.”

    1. Yes the merging of two worlds, learning more towards emotionally truths. And emotional truths can’t be fact-checked.

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