Why I prefer nonfiction over fiction

35244821086_e8236a33a9_z1-300x200Since I was a child, I’ve dreamed of becoming the next great American novelist. I have published a few novels, and yet none of them are quite as dear to my heart as my two memoirs. I realized something critical about myself the more I’ve devoted myself to nonfiction writing (mostly about the intersection of faith and politics): I’m not very good at making things up.

If there’s anything I’ve learned during my time as a graduate student of creative nonfiction, it’s that memoir writing, and even literary essays, can follow a story arc similar to what you’ll find in fiction: there is a beginning, a development of conflict, a set of characters (even if the only character is the writer herself), a middle, and a resolution. Like fiction, nonfiction doesn’t require a neat, tidy ending. But a decisive finishing point is required just the same.

This is the biggest difference between fiction and nonfiction, as I understand it: in fiction, more effort is required to keep all my ducks in a row; there is a plot to maintain (and keep plausible); there are subplots to remember and resolve; there are main characters and supporting characters that cannot be forgotten. Without these essential elements in place, a writer risks leaving pieces of the story hanging in ways that don’t make sense, or simply fail to satisfy.

While I do believe that there are elements of real life in most, if not all, fiction, the truth about me is that I’m best at writing what I know. And when writing about “real life”—particularly my struggles with faith and spiritual identity—I don’t have to worry about finding the perfect ending, because I know there isn’t one. As a memoirist and regular blogger, the story keeps on going, and there is never a shortage of material to draw from. In many ways, my readership contributes to it with their comments and thoughtful questions, further prolonging the dialogue and inspiring future writings.

This isn’t to say that I will never write fiction again, and I still enjoy reading it. I appreciate the imaginations of authors who craft story lines and characters that stay with me long after I finish the book. But there’s also nothing quite like finishing the memoir of a real person who has lived through something similar to what I’ve experienced, and finding a kindred spirit in those pages. Even better is when that writer is on Twitter or has a blog, and I can contribute to their ongoing dialogue as my readers do for me.

This post originally appeared on Colorado Review.

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6 thoughts on “Why I prefer nonfiction over fiction

  1. Warren B says:

    As a reader, I prefer Nonfiction over Fiction. I think the reason is with nonfiction there is always something to learn, whether it is a biography, history, science or psychology. There is always something to pick up and understand. This is not to take away anything from fiction writers because some compose amazing narratives of the human experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeff Cann says:

    I’m in agreement with your sentiments on non-fiction over fiction. My handful of moderate successes with fiction have been short pieces written in the style of a first person personal essay. It seems to be the only format I have any comfort with. I’m going to follow for a while to compare our blogging styles.. I’d like the ability to break out of my style.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kira says:

    In general I prefer reading fiction over nonfiction but I do enjoy reading memoirs/creative nonfiction. When it comes to writing, I much prefer nonfiction. I really have no talent for fiction. Creative nonfiction is what I’m best at. Like you, I appreciate not having to worry about the ‘perfect ending’ or whether or not the plot is plausible when it comes to both reading and writing nonfiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bobcabkings says:

    Once, very long ago, I started to write a novel. I think I got about six pages and realized I had no idea where the story was going. My more recent attempts at fiction have been short fables, and that seems about right. I think that if I had to claim a genre I would have to call myself an essayist.

    Liked by 1 person

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