A book? A novel? A creative or narrative nonfiction?

Well, it looks like we have our first debate on this blog. Yay! I love a good debate. I think it helps us all come to balance on a topic when we see and understand opposing viewpoints – not necessarily agreement, but balance.

So, what’s the big hot button issue we’re going to tackle right out of the gate? Whether or not I should use the word “novel” when telling about the book I’m writing.

I suppose that’s a good place to dip our toes in the water and see if we want to jump in further. It falls under the category of “day-to-day conundrums” I listed in my first blog post as possible points of conversation. Seems like a safe place to test the ground rules of open-mindedness and civility before diving into things like global problems or theological issues.

So, here’s the basic dilemma:

Typically, a novel has been defined as a fictitious story of book length, written in narrative form. More recently (especially since Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood), some have come to call works of narrative non-fiction novels. These works read like novels and the authors write with the same considerations of a novelist (developing plot and character, making decisions about the role of the narrator, etc.). The only difference, and the bone of contention, is that one is fiction and one is not.

While this topic may not seem to matter much (it didn’t to me when someone first brought it to my attention), I suppose I do need to come to a conclusion before proceeding further with book proposals to publishers or posting even more about my “novel” only to be seen as having a lack of understanding of genre. I actually have done some reading on the issue and will post some links at the end of this post for those who wish to do the same.

Here’s where I am at this moment. Following one of my mottos – choose your battles – I’ve changed the wording on the descriptions of my project to say I’m writing a book. That’ll work for now, but I have few hesitations with that.

First off, I feel like I’m writing a novel and to say “book” just seems so generic. Of all the current offerings, there is one description I prefer, but it would be cumbersome to always have to refer to my work as a narrative non-fiction (some use NN for short, but that’s just ugly). Other things like biography or creative nonfiction also don’t seem to fit.

I side with those who view this as a new genre (or at least a revival of an older genre). The goal is to tell a story, not just report the historical facts of a person’s life or an event. In the case of my book, I’m telling the story of a friend who is in witness protection. When I set out to write a book proposal for it, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to utilize the format suggestions for nonfiction proposals. I finally scrapped that approach and used the typical template for a novel. It was a much better fit.

So, I thought I had the matter settled in my mind … until a friend pointed out to me that she was confused because she thought I was writing a true story. When she saw I called it a novel, she figured she must have misunderstood and I was actually writing fiction. This friend is an avid reader, so I value her input. I value yours, too. So, what do you think?

Some articles I found helpful or enjoyable on this topic:

http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/12/28/home/capote-interview.html

http://amsaw.org/amsaw-writingright-EmblazingTheTruth.html

http://www.riverteethjournal.com/blog/2013/02/01/what-is-creative-nonfiction

http://old.post-gazette.com/magazine/19991226creative6.asp

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