Last week when I attended the Writing Guild, it was the first time I had made a meeting in months. Last year had been my worst attendance year ever due to so many things. It was such a bitterly cold night that it was a real push to get there. Several new people pushed out too for a first time meeting so the room had a nice attendance for January.
One of the new visitors was R. who is an ex-Marine. He told his story and why he was there. He has suffered PSTD for years from being a Vietnam Vet, and finally his memories got the best of him. He went to a VA facility where they said the best thing he could do was to write out his trauma instead of trying to bury it. He managed to write several pieces for a Marine web page. He said he was no writer, but he wanted to learn. He invited us to read some of his work, and he was a better storyteller than he thought.
One of the issues that came up was fiction vs. non-fiction. He writes personal essays. I suggested he consider putting the events of his life into fictional pieces. He did not want to do that saying that he wanted to tell the true story. Others took issue with my saying fiction was another way, that essays were better for Vietnam memories than fiction. I dropped it, but I don’t think fiction should be discounted. Often we can step back and let other characters act out our own story. Also, fiction might not be factual but it can be very true. The emotions and pain of a soldier does not have to be literally true to carry truth, to show truth. I believe fiction has real power.
The interesting thing is that R. wants to join the group, but he has proposed an in-house writing contest. He thinks if we “experienced” writers would read his essays and then rewrite them, he could study and learn from them. Now this is an original idea! He wants to judge them and to offer cash prizes for three places. Guess who is going to show him (hopefully) how good his stories can be turned into fiction?
I have already chosen one of his essays. Actually, it seemed to choose me. I have started working on the piece and think I have a pretty good war story going here. I have never written a war story before of any kind so this is a challenge. I have no personal experience with a battle, but reading R.’s essays, I think I got enough facts to weave a life-like story of the Vietnam experience. Time will tell.
Where do you stand on fiction vs. non-fiction?