Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Behind the Books: What Creative Nonfiction Isn’t

Whenever I talk to a group of people about creative nonfiction, it quickly becomes clear that a few people in the audience think that the term refers to a text that takes creative license with the facts. Nope. No way.

All nonfiction—creative or not—has to be 100 percent true. Nothing made up. Everything, every last detail, must be painstakingly researched and documented, from weather to who said what and when they said it.

Here’s an example. I’ve seen a number of reading lists that include the fantastic book

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner in the nonfiction category. But it’s not nonfiction. Sure it contains plenty of true facts about animals that live under the snow, but the characters are made up and they can only imagine what creatures might lie below their feet. Most importantly, the constellations of animals shown on the final spread have no resemblance to the real placement of brighter and dimmer stars. They're made up. And that’s fine because the author wrote it as fiction. Messner isn't confused, but some of her readers apparently are.

Lately, I’ve heard people in the kidlit world tossing around the term “pseudo-nonfiction”. Oh boy, is that just asking for trouble or what?

Apparently, the term is used in reference to books like Over and Under the Snow, which have some true facts and a plausible story, but aren’t “pure” nonfiction. Um. Sounds a whole lot like realistic fiction to me. Why the sudden need to invent new, confusing terminology?

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