Daily Archives: January 9, 2013

The Border Between Fact and Fiction

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these days about the border between fiction and nonfiction. I don’t have time to write a proper well-composed post right now about this, but I did want to mention a few points related to it that have come up recently.

  •  One of my favorite books of this year, Steve Sheinkin‘s Bomb, has been getting quite a bit of scrutiny as to how well the author explains and documents aspects of his writing, especially the bits that seem most fictional and whether he overplayed certain aspects of the historical material for drama. I’ve looked into both quite a bit as have others and feel satisfied that this book still is one of the best of the year.
  • Another favorite of the year for me is Jason Chin‘s picture book Island.  While Sheinkin stayed on the nonfiction side of the border while using fictional structures, Chin has gone across to the fictional side while keeping the facts true and well-researched.
  • This past Saturday I attended an excellent panel at the New York Public Library on ethics and nonfiction children’s books.  At one point one of the panelists talked about her decision to imagine something in her nonfiction picture book for the sake of reader engagement.  She described her efforts to make the subject and story right for young readers and that she made it clear in her back matter that she had fictionalized this one element. Another panelist said she would not have done this.
  • And then yesterday I had an inquiry about a forthcoming work of narrative nonfiction as to whether it needed an index or not.  The questioner worried that too much back matter would detract from the driving drama of the story itself.
  • As someone who struggled for years to write someone’s story as nonfiction and ended up crossing the border into fiction this is something I pay a lot of attention to. No answers at all, just more questions all the time.


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