Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Barbara Kingsolver on the difference between fiction and nonfiction

This is brilliant.

"The best way I can describe it is to use a metaphor my brother gave me one time.  I used to live in the desert, and I gardened in the desert, and the first time he came out to visit me in Tuscon and he saw this beautiful little garden that I was forcing to grow out of the desert, he said,

'The way you make a garden in the desert is you point to a spot and you put all your energy into that and you water it and you make something grow. Back East,' where he lived and gardened, 'the way you make a garden is you point to a place -- a scrubby, raggedy, weedy, brambly hillside -- and you remove everything else except what you want.'

And that is exactly the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. A novel is like a garden in the desert. You choose this spot and then you water the heck out of it and you work and you work and you make this simple single thing -- you force this plot where there was nothing and you make it all come out of that barren place.

Whereas, a nonfiction narrative is to begin with this scrambly, weedy thing we call our life, or some subject, some aspect of life, and then you pull out everything that doesn't belong. That's the challenge.

And it's much harder in a way because you have to pull out so much and just throw it away.

The temptation, when you're writing, especially something that's like a memoir, something about your own life, is to leave things because that's how they really happened. That's irrelevant. The fact that it happened is irrelevant. The fact that it's funny or entertaining is irrelevant. The only reason to leave it in is that it adds to the story."

She goes on to say that a nonfiction narrative requires all the same elements as a novel: plot, suspense, an arc, and then resolution. You have to create all those things, but you can't make them up.

This excellent metaphor is from the interview at the end of the audiobook version of Barbara Kingsolver's first person non-fiction narrative, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year Of Food Life. (Disc 12, track g, starting at 6:15) and is also cited here.

Illustrate and Write On,

1 comment:

PamBrunskill said...

This is great! Thanks for sharing. And, I enjoyed reading ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE with my book club.