Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Katharine Britton: The Buttercup Principle: Where is the line between fiction and non-fiction?



The first question people generally ask me about my novel, HER SISTER'S SHADOW, is, "Do you have sisters?" I don't. The story is not autobiographical. It is fictional. Some elements in the story, however, are not.

My mother had sisters and lived in a big house overlooking Sandy Cove on Boston's South Shore. This served as the inspiration for my novel. The rest of the story I culled from my imagination. Or so I believed. (Authors of fiction often hear from readers, "That exact thing happened to me." Or, "The new house in the empty lot? That's mine!" as one of my readers told me. Both the house and empty lot I thought I had made up.)

Much of what fiction writers imagine begins with observation and investigation. If I don't remember what a yacht club looks like inside, I go look at one. Then I change details to accommodate my story. Like most writers, I carry a notebook in which I jot down unusual outfits, novel settings, and off-beat ideas or exchanges. All are non-fiction, right? But, if I put that odd outfit on someone else; relocate the street, beach house, or meadow; attribute the comment to a fictional character, do they then become fiction?

"Lie like an eye-witness," I read somewhere and now pass along to the students in my memoir classes. I tell them that it is okay to make up certain details, even dialogue, so long as the author stays true to the "facts," i.e., the events as she remembers them. One of my students was writing about a childhood summer at her grandfather's farm. There was a calf on the farm. Emboldened by my message, she wrote, "I think her name was Buttercup." In fact, she did not remember the calf's name. Did that matter? Not to me. As long as her grandfather had a farm and on that farm there was a calf, giving the calf a name only increased my enjoyment and allowed me to form an even clearer mental image. Thus was born "The Buttercup Principle."

But I sometimes wonder how many Buttercup moments a book of non-fiction can have before it should be classified as fiction? And how much of one's fiction has to be "made up" to qualify as fiction?

Where do you think the line should fall between fiction and non-fiction? And why does it matter?
Leave a comment for a chance to win one of three signed copies of Her Sister’s Shadow. 

Katharine

***Katharine's winners are Cathy Shouse, Na and Chrisbails!  Please email totebag@authorsoundrelations.com with your full name and mailing address!***

19 comments:

  1. To me I love both fiction and Non. As long as it is a good telling of the story, good characters/people, then I am okay either way. I love reading others stories/tales/happenings.
    Katharine is a new author for me. This cover is awesome and the book looks great. Thanks for the giveaway.
    christinebails at yahoo dot com

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    1. I agree. A well told story is a good read, no matter what. (I love my cover, too. Thanks!)

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  2. Thanks for the great post! Man, that's a hard question. Probably my line is right where you described. The Event, place, time, participants should stay the same but small details can be changed or embellished.

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    1. You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed it. Good luck in the giveaway!

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  3. I read something by Anna Quindlen and she said that people always think that what she made up is true and what is nonfiction is fiction. A well-told story is good and naming a calf Buttercup isn't terrible, but making up something horrific and calling it nonfiction is what gets people in trouble. lol If something is going to go very far off from proven fact, I want it to say "inspired by a true story."

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    1. Anna Quindlen is great, and I agree with you about needing limits to the details one makes up to embellish a story. Disclaimers are easy and essential.

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  4. Rather a difficult decision to make espe-
    cially for me. I guess that's why I am a
    reader, not an author! Thanks for the
    opportunity to win. Merry Christmas!

    Pat C.

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    1. Good luck and Merry Christmas to you!

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  5. I like a balance between fiction and non-fiction. When I read a story I want to experience things I can relate to and also things I never have but can because it's been portrayed. I do think ideas stems from obsevation and it goes from there.
    Cambonified(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Most fiction stems from observation, imagination, memory, and research. It's incredible to take those ingredients and invent a whole new world (or family drama, in my case). Best wishes.

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  6. I don't think it does matter. Just give me a great story that I can get lost in.

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    1. Aren't books great? Good luck in the giveaway.

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  7. I don't think it matters, but I read mostly to be entertained. Therefore, artistic license is granted.

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    1. Interesting take on the situation! I agree that stories should entertain at some level.

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  8. i'm rarely reading fiction but still want a balance if one day i have a chance to read it

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  9. Reading fiction immerses me within the story because of the characters that are memorable and the setting as well. The writing and the plot are always important facets.

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    1. I'm big on creating a sense of place: I often start my stories by selecting the setting, then I populate it, and let the story grow from there.

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  10. Your post was thought provoking and fascinating. I read Fiction to escape and to relax. Non-fiction provides me with real life situations. But I enjoy both greatly. Best wishes.

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    1. Thanks and best wishes to you, too!

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