The Liar and the Nonfiction Writer

I love writing nonfiction, and here’s why. I get to shape each scene. I get to decide where to make it end, and what to include. When I first started writing nonfiction, I missed poetry, where I would start with something true and warp it until it made a good poem. I felt all the weight of nonfiction’s allegiance to the truth. In poetry they tell you to lie about the details to make the emotion true. And it’s good advice. No one cares that the cutting thing you wrote about was actually said by your sister’s friend rather than your boyfriend. It makes for a shittier poem.

But I’m over a year into my nonfiction project. I call it a book. I talk about it. And I’ve finally learned that you can still lie. You lie by ommission. Praise the lord. I create certain effects by including certain details and excluding others. And it makes each scene have an “argument,” or a feeling that I want the reader to leave with. And I get to choose that feeling. And take out the details that contradict said feeling. Hot damn, I’m in business!

What have you learned this week?

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5 responses to “The Liar and the Nonfiction Writer

  1. I’m here! And I agree on the “shaping a scene” thing. It’s fascinating how one scene could be depicted in a number of ways on the page. Which reminds me of Jeanette Winterson’s comment about memory when I saw here a few months ago. That memory is fluid, and we are the stars of our own stories, and we all decide what our own truths are. So truth in nonfiction?? There is no such thing.

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