Someone asked recently what was the difference between fiction and non-fiction.
I opened my mouth, ready to say something like, "Non-fiction is true, fiction is made up."
Thankfully, my gums flapped shut before such yammer fell from my mouth.
Later, I spent time thinking about the distinctions between the two - and there are distinctions, even as you read the question above, you were able, almost immediately, to classify the terms as different - categorize them in separate places in your brain, and retrieve details about the terms from separate places in your brain (aren't you amazing, look at you and your brain go!)- and I found myself thinking in circles.
Fiction - in all its forms tells stories that are far more true than some of the non-fiction I've read, even though the characters are made up. Fiction is what makes all the non-fiction in life digestible, interesting, pondering, thoughtful, glorious, frightening, comforting, exciting, and entertaining.
I'm at work on my second novel - which I thought was going to be the sequel to my first novel. I mean, I meant to be at work on the sequel to my first novel (which I'm still shopping around), but I'm not. I'm actually at work on a "sequel" to my short story The Stuckville Cafe which is hitting bookshelves May 15, 2008 as part of the Hot Apple Cider anthology. I've been getting such amazing and positive feedback from the story, even before it hits the shelves, that I'm convinced I need to write a full length novel based on the story. But, more about that later. For now, on to my point!
At The Stuckville Cafe is a work of fiction. But it's setting is real (but I won't say where the real Stuckville is), the people are real (names and identifying features have been changed to protect the innocent - and the not so innocent :) ), and the themes; love, hope, peace, joy, grace, etc. are more real than the skin I'm in.
I could, in fact, take the same info, the same themes, and the same settings, and write a non-fiction book about a real town, populated by real people, and the events that shape their lives. And it could be a great book, too. A sort of documentary (I love documentaries!), a slice of life time capsule captured in ink.
So, the difference between fiction and non-fiction isn't subject matter. It isn't characters, it isn't theme, or setting, or anything else that we think of that makes up a traditional fiction book. Because the components of story are the same if you're writing fiction or non-fiction. You use the same tools, they are just used differently. You have the same data, they are just arranged differently on the page and spoken in a different tone of voice.
And so, I fess up, I come clean, I throw up my hands and surrender.
I don't know what the difference is between fiction and non-fiction. Yet I do. I know it in my heart somewhere, in some swirling, windswept place where ideas come, but as soon as they arrive they are blown to the peripheral, just out of translatable reach.
But, I'm teachable.
What is the difference between fiction and non-fiction?