Friday, April 8, 2016

Fantasy vs. Nonfiction (Not Even a Competition)

Or, an Assignment from my "Truth or Fiction" Class

I'm taking this class called Truth or Fiction. Basically, it's a course that studies that thin line between creative non-fiction (i.e. memoirs) and realistic fiction. I didn't want to take it, but I need creative writing credits for my social justice major (since that's my concentration and shut up, Dad, I can already hear your lecture about bad career and college choices), and there were no courses available this semester for the more fantasy-based writing branches.

So I got this assignment and laughed my ass off while I was writing the response. Then decided to post it on my blog because the book I want to review is another 200 pages long and there's no way I can do that in under a week while also passing my classes (I mean, I could fail all my courses and spend every waking moment reading and writing, but as tempting as that is, that's not what I'm paying 40K a year to do). Plus, I get to saturate the internet with my opinion and that makes me feel special. :)


The Assignment: reflect on a larger event that you have considered writing about but haven’t because it is either too personal or for some other reason. Do you think you would be comfortable writing about it as fiction? Why/why not?

My response:

I actually laughed when I read this assignment. A “larger event” that happened in my life that I’ve considered writing about but may be too uncomfortable writing it as nonfiction?

I’m a boring White girl from Nowheresville, Minnesota. Nothing happens to me! That’s why I live voraciously through fantasy and sci-fi novels, and all my stories involve tragedy and action and fantastic things because I need to compensate for the utter lack of interesting things that happen to me. (I traveled a bit as a kid, one of my family members is a recovering addict, and I was lonely in high school, but in the end, who cares?)

Now, I’ve written about some things that have happened to other people, and have changed their names at their request. For example, for my social justice internship I interviewed and wrote about a friend’s younger brother who was imprisoned for distributing child pornography, but in fact it was a sixteen-year-old sharing intimate photos of himself with whom he thought was his online boyfriend and is now being severely over-punished for his teenaged hormones that fueled a stupid, harmless mistake. I kept the story as true and as close to the facts as possible, with one exception: I changed the names of everyone involved at their request for their protection.

On my blog Dragons, Zombies, and Aliens [Yup! I mentioned you guys in my paper!] I mentioned going to the movies with my mom’s best friend. I changed her name to Cat, because it was posted on the internet and I’m not stupid.

So, when I end up writing about social justice issues (as that’s the only thing in the real world I’m interested in writing about, with the possible exception of history), I would be plenty comfortable writing it as non-fiction. But if the subjects of that issue ask for change in the interest of anonymity and protection, then I would honor that request. And if I thought a certain story would have a bigger impact as a piece of fiction rather than nonfiction (i.e. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle or Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin), I would write it that way.

One thing I will say, though: I’ve always found issues of social justice written in a purely fantastical/sci-fi setting to be the most fun and the most interesting. It’s more comfortable and, dare I say, interesting for the reader, since they can distance themselves from the issue (oh, the women in Game of Thrones get treated so harshly, thank goodness it’s fantasy; it's not like that kind of thing ever happens in real life, right?), but if they take a closer look they realize it’s about the real world, reflected in fantasy. (Star Trek did a great job of this: half of the episodes were about the utter insanity of the Cold War that would’ve gotten the writers arrested if they’d spoken plainly, but because it was aliens they stayed out of jail).


Thanks for reading! :)

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns and you're not comfortable leaving it in the little comment box below, then please contact me directly.


  1. Thank you for the kudos to Star Trek, I was actually thinking that throughout your post: the idiocy of the arms race (The Doomsday Machine/A Taste of Armageddon), why dictatorship, authoritarian forms of government will fall (Mirror, Mirror), the stupidity of racism/sexism (Let That Be Your Last Battlefield/The Outcast/Far Beyond the Stars & more).

    6 series that tell stories about real life here and now but in a safe, fictionalized format that is "safe" for consumption--even though some stations in the deep south refused to air Plato's Stepchildren. Utilizing a fantasy setting to portray otherwise controversial themes allows writers (both in print and in video) to address otherwise taboo topics.

    1. Thank you for the comment! And to really make sure they wouldn't get hurt, the creators of "Star Trek" added as much sex/skin as the 1960s allowed so everyone would freak out over that and completely miss the taboo references. (Because while we can let messages on racism slide, we have to protect the children and get rid of that icky sex talk!)