Factual Versus Fictional Writing
I have been thinking about the differences, the pro’s and con’s of factual versus fictional writing all day, after someone told me that they struggle to read works of fiction, because their reading time is so limited.
I understand the time factor, but less so why so-called factual literature should be deemed more important. I find this subject difficult to write about in a short piece, so please bear with me.
The first thing to consider is whether factual accounts are actually true. When a famous personage writes his memoirs, who is to know what has been sanitised or left out? Likewise, when a person writes about his travels, in whatever dimension, who knows whether that was what he experienced? (Hence the image above).
Even when someone is trying to be fair, as in describing a marital breakdown, there are always two sides, two perspectives, to the story at least, plus those of the children, if any. Likewise, when a general describes a battle, he has most likely only observed it from a distance. Soldiers fighting for their lives, don’t have time to make notes.
Would a French, German or Belgian account of the Battle of Waterloo be the same as the British version? I doubt it, so what is factual? The victor writes history.
‘Factual’ clearly comes down to meaning “someone’s opinion of events”.
Then there is fictional writing. This is honestly someone’s opinion, because it is described as fiction, it is not opinion masquerading as the Truth. One of the problems with factual stories, is that they pertain to one person or event.
So, you can read an account of a young person’s suffering from, say, child abuse, and say ‘Isn’t it awful that Joe Blogs went through that!’ However, fiction allows the writer to take the story away from the personal and make the reader realise that it is going on all around him or her.
It also limits the chances of being accused of slander or libel, because it is no longer Joe Blogs’ tale of woe, but that of a section of the community as a whole. Fiction can transform a personal tragedy into a documentary on life itself!
‘But what about Sci-Fi?’, I hear some people saying.
Good Sci-Fi is predictive, as good fiction is documentational.
I loved Star Trek from day one, and was not surprised when mobile phones, lithium and proton drives were invented or considered a possibility. The widespread use of computers too. Look at Arthur C. Clarke’s predictions, and Asimov’s.
I, and millions of other kids, had heard of all that stuff long before our parents. Admittedly, not before many scientists, but they weren’t spreading the word. What did the readers of ‘factual’ stories know of this exciting future?
Nothing, because they were reading about someone else’s opinion of history. This is my summary: ‘factual’ is about the past and tends to be local or personal, but fiction can be as widespread as the writer wants, in time, manner and space.
Fiction allows the writer more room to get his point across. It is time for intellectual snobbery against fiction to stop. Fiction is a more flexible genre of the art form of writing and should not be dismissed lightly.
When I started writing, I went through an exercise to distil my thoughts, and came up with:
‘I write about what I see, or think I see, or dream, and in the end, it is all the same’.
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Podcast: Factual Versus Fictional Writing