[Guest commentary by Alton Gansky, author of several novels, including Finder's Fee, Director's Cut, Before Another Dies, Out of Time, The Incumbent, The Prodigy, Vanished, and A Ship Possessed. Check out Alton's website at www.altongansky.com/ and blog at www.altongansky.typepad.com/. Alton's forthcoming novel is Zero-G, coming this November.]
From time to time I encounter someone who says, “Fiction? I only read nonfiction books. I don't have time for novels.” Since I write both fiction and nonfiction I’m not as bothered by the comments as much as some of my fellow novelists. I understand the draw of nonfiction and its power to impact lives. Still, I’d be lying if I said the comments didn’t sting a little.
The problem may rest in a misconception orbiting the novel: Fiction deals with the made up stuff; nonfiction deals with real stuff. It’s imagination verses information. But therein lies the, well, lie.
Nonfiction is fact based. No one would argue that. Fiction, however, is chockfull of fact. While the plotline comes from the writer’s mind; while the characters only walk the common halls of the imagination shared by reader and writer; the substrate of fiction is fact. We learn about living along the Mississippi in the 1800s thanks to Mark Twain.
It would be a mistake, however, to equate a novel with a good nonfiction work. While both are based on fact, their goals are different. Nonfiction’s goal is to educate. It may be creative and even entertaining in its delivery, but it is primarily a vehicle of fact.
The novel sails a different sea. Part of its cargo is fact, but it carries tons more of entertainment. “Entertainment” means more than most know. Often we associate it with movies, a television show, theater, or a concert. But the word comes from the Latin meaning “to hold between.” The novelist holds the reader between the factual basis of the plot and the exploration of what might be. Where nonfiction is education, fiction is exploration. The writer is the jungle guide, the reader the intrepid explorer.
In my latest novel, Finder's Fee, I explore several issues: self-forgiveness, genetic manipulation, learning to value others over ourselves and more. Finder’s Fee is a way for me to explore these issues, not just intellectually, but emotionally.
So, some may not like novels. That’s fine. Some prefer fiction (God bless them). Either way, the books help us grow in our Christian life and that’s a noble goal.