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  1. #1
    Gregory Haley
    Guest

    Creative Non Fiction Quandary

    My current endeavor deals with colonial America and my two MC's wrote next to nothing for me to draw from in the way of conversation. Quotes from them are few and far between.

    If I manufacture conversation on the order of "what they would have likely said" does my work then become a work of fiction?

    I like to draw inspiration from Capote's In Cold Blood, but he had the luxury of interviewing his subjects before they were put to death. Mine have been dead for nearly 400 years.

    You might be inclined to say, "Just put it down and deal with the details later." I have had that same thought, but if I have a creative license and can still call it non fiction it vastly changes the flavor and tone of the work. If I have to stick with what little was actually spoken, it becomes simply a dull history book.

    Thanks for any thoughts you all may have.

    -GH-



  2. #2
    Laura Mollett
    Guest

    Re: Creative Non Fiction Quandary

    Not the answer to your question (I don't know the answer ) but have you seen the online versions of the Federal Writers' Project manuscript? The interviews were taken during the depression (1936-1940) but over cover much earlier periods (memories from childhood or conversations with parents and/or grandparents, etc.) and are a wonderful resource.

    This is the site (I hope this is the proper way to link it) <http://rs6.loc.gov/wpaintro/wpahome.html>
    and this (for example) is a personal history (in his own words) of a gentleman born in Quebec in 1870
    <http://rs6.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?wpa:18:./temp/~ammem_zEhd::>

    I was doing some research earlier and found a whole lot on the settlement of California. Fun stuff. The right searches might help you with all kinds of flavor. And if not, it's just a great site

  3. #3
    Gregory Haley
    Guest

    Re: Creative Non Fiction Quandary

    Thanks Laura.....I had never heard of this project. I'll have a look. There's bound to be something useful in there.

    -GH-

  4. #4
    Cindy Kay
    Guest

    Re: Creative Non Fiction Quandary

    Gregory,

    There are many great examples of histories and other nonfictions in which dialogue is imagined by the writer. I don't read as much historical nonfiction, but I know Bernstien does this often in his nonfiction works. Read a bunch of them to get familiar with the tecniques they use.

    I think I usually see something either in the text or an an afterward/notes sort of section that chronicles how and when imagined conversations were used. Also those authors take pains to get the cadance, words, ideas of each subjects' dialogue down from other sources. They usually use some consistent method to let the reader know when a dialogue is imagined and when recorded.

    In short, imagined dialogue should be so well done that the reader cannot distinguish it from actual recorded dialogue in your book. But the author should take pains to make sure they do.

    This is a demanding and rigorous genre so I would encourage you to be reading from it like mad as you write.

  5. #5
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: Creative Non Fiction Quandary

    The industry hasn't decided how much created dialogue and events and scenes pushes creative nonfiction over the edge--and there are skirmishes about what is what when it's close to the edge. Some publishing folks are still cussing Truman Capote out for the Pandora's box he opened on that. So, creatively, it's up to you to find the acceptable edge with your publisher.

    Legally, what you need worry about is sticking with plausibility of what that real-life character would do. And your risk will be on a sliding scale of how public the figure was (the more public, the more up for grabs on interpretation) and how how dead he/she is and/or how litigious he/she and any surviving relatives are.

  6. #6
    Gregory Haley
    Guest

    Re: Creative Non Fiction Quandary

    Cindy:

    I have none of Bernsteins works. Lots of Boorstin, though. I'll get out the ol' credit card and see what I can find. I have felt all along, (6 months now) that I have researched my subjects well. I am now discovering that I only have half the work done. Thanks for your insight.

    "In short, imagined dialogue should be so well done that the reader cannot distinguish it from actual recorded dialogue in your book. But the author should take pains to make sure they do."

    That bit of advice will go well headed. I fear I have bitten off more than I can chew, but I'll never give up.

    Thanks again!
    -GH-

  7. #7
    Gregory Haley
    Guest

    Re: Creative Non Fiction Quandary

    Gary:

    Sounds like I should follow gut instinct here and make the work exciting and readable to the general public. Let the experts sort it out later. The subjects are generally regarded as second fiddle players by mainstream historians and get no credit at all in HS textbooks.

    Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts and advice. It's much appreciated.

    Regards,
    -GH-

  8. #8
    Cindy Kay
    Guest

    Re: Creative Non Fiction Quandary

    Gregory,

    I may have misspelled his name. It's Bernstein as in Woodward and Bernstein fame. He's gone on to write many nonfiction political nonfictions.

    I loved Capote's In Cold Blood. The whole tenure of his book signaled an intimacy with the killers that he could not have legitimately had through interviews. He got inside their heads in ways that were not accepted as straight nonfiction. I'm a stickler about nonfiction being accurate, but, for me, if the author signals me with the writing, as Capote did, that he's imagining to some degree, it's okay. I'm completely hangman ready for the likes of these memoir folks who make stuff up and try to pass it off as creative imagining of their drug-induced black--out periods. Unless they tell me that's what it is.

    The bitten-off-too-much is a wonderful place to be. Keep at it.

    I agree with Gary that these are lines being shifted as we speak and we'e all uncomfortably with them in one way or another.

  9. #9
    Gregory Haley
    Guest

    Re: Creative Non Fiction Quandary

    Cindy/Gary:

    "Some publishing folks are still cussing Truman Capote out for the Pandora's box he opened on that. So, creatively, it's up to you to find the acceptable edge with your publisher."

    Since my knowledge of the publishing industry equals a big fat zero the above quote from Gary is most encouraging news. It tells me that publishers still don't have industry standards for this issue. I'm free as long as I am guided by clear concise facts and good sound moral standards. Conversations will not be fabricated out of thin air, but based on what the subjects are known to have done.

    Thanks Again,
    -GH-

  10. #10
    Cindy Kay
    Guest

    Re: Creative Non Fiction Quandary

    And document everything so that as you work through, hopefully, with the publisher's attorney, you'll be ready. There's a time for creative license, the first couple drafts. And a time for a more thoughtful/worried approach.

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