Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Novel Idea

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?


Sioux said...


Have you read "The Things They Carried" (by Tim O'Brien) or "Memoir of a Geisha"--both fictional, but they certainly read like they're nonfiction.

I think you can take something nonfiction, remake it into fiction and in the doing so, make it truer and more real. There is something powerful going on when details are added and things are fleshed revelations happen...

Elephant's Child said...

Sometimes fiction is more powerful and has a truer punch than non-fiction.
I really hope that you can make him see this. And would love to read your version of his story.

Linda O'Connell said...

I'm sure you are up to the challenge and will be instrumental in helping to develop a best seller. This is a great idea.

Marylin Warner said...

Tough question, Claudia. I like reading fiction over non-fiction, though I read quite a bit of both, and I'd much rather write fiction, though when it comes to selling I sell more articles and essays than short stories. So it's kind of a toss up.
But your post is excellent. Don't you just love writing conferences and workshops? They really do give us new perspectives, and it's always energizing to meet other writers.

Susan said...

Hi Bookie.

You were very brave to go out to book club in freezing temps.

Well, personally, I'm for non-fiction. I like to write personal essays, like R. Sorry. Maybe someday I'll try writing fiction. We'll see. Susan