Thursday, December 06, 2012

Real Fiction?

I had a conversation with a colleague this past week about the values of reading fiction, as opposed to reading non-fiction. My school is reassessing our curriculum as we assess student needs in the 21st Century, and my colleague was reacting to a New York Times in which the College Board (all hail) has decided that high school students aren't reading enough nonfiction, suggesting they read more--that upwards of 70% of a school's curriculum be nonfiction.

My dear friend, a brilliant Ph.D, said he has found that adults are more interested in non-fiction than teens, and that young people require the story to pull them along. Moreover, he said, "The language of [great] literature has everything [students] need."

I responded by neither agreeing or refuting his remarks but by offering a qualification: I said none of the essays I have published have been entirely true, and none of my novels have been entirely fictional. In fact, I've come to believe no fiction is entirely imaginative.

My elective class Writing Short Fiction began this week. I started with a tried and true homework assignment: Write a paragraph-length description of your first memory. Then fictionalize it by writing a brief scene based on the paragraph. Are these scenes fiction? Sure. Are they creative non-fiction? How can I deny that?

I think it comes down to what moves us to write. (First memories usually ooze with glorious drama.) We write about our obsessions, our preoccupations, our fears, or people we can't forget. In short, we write about our life experiences. Therefore, how can anything called "fiction" really be only that?     

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