Archive for August, 2010

Fiction vs. Non-fiction

I’m in the process of writing a novella, I think. As I stated in a prior blog, I started out to write a short story and then it got too long to qualify for that genre. I didn’t know what to do. I was asked if I was writing a novel and my answer was that my story wasn’t long enough to be a novel. That is when I decided I must be writing a novella. I was delighted to be in the good company of many very successful novalla authors.

In rereading the definition of the novella I discovered that a it is supposed to be fiction. So I went to the dictionary to see if my work would fit into that category. My Randon House Dictionary stated that fiction is The class of literature comprising of works of imaginative narration, esp. in prose form … a made up story … etc. etc. I went to Google and read Fiction is a branch of lliterature which deals, in part or in whole, with temporally contrafactual events (events that are not true at the time of writing) etc. etc.

I also remembered taking a writing class some time ago in which the instructor said that any author writing fiction must necessarily write about something they experienced either consciously or unconsciously which they stored in their memory bank to which they returned when writing their literary work based on imagination and not necessarily on fact.

I had been worried that my work would not qualify as a novella since I write about an occurance from which I allow my imagination to build. The occurance was real; the development of the story is not and comes from my imagination.

I can’t worry about the definition being one thing or another. I need to worry about writing a good story. I can’t worry about whether or not it will be classified as a short story or a novella or a novel. I’m too busy working on a good story.


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I’m pretty active in several social media groups. I’d been told that it would be a good idea for letting people know about my memoir, Becoming Alice. I’ve learned a lot in the process. I’ve met a lot of nice people who are doing the same thing I am, the only difference is that their book, or product as it is called, is different than mine.

On the various sites to which I belong, I’ve joined several groups, all related to my subject and interests on the internet. My friends in these groups all come to this marketing … oh, oh, I shouldn’t have used that term because we might all be kicked out of these sites … come to these sites from entirely different points of view.

I find that many of the members are selling themselves as experts in helping the rest of us to sell our products. Many more try to teach us to be successful by blogging. I’ve noticed that a lot of these products are things as diverse as beauty supply items to real estate sales services.

Some very small group seems to be promoting their books, also called products. This is where I have to register a complaint. Selling a book is entirely different than selling shampoo or insurance coverage.

I have read that we need to sell our books to target audiences. Okay, in my case that target would include many rings since the book has appealed to men and women, young adults, people interested in wwii, people interested in family relationships, people who are Jewish, or maybe not, etc. etc.

So, being unable to target my product anywhere specific, but rather to everyone, everywhere, I shall now go back to writing my next work and let the chips fall where they may.

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I need to get this off my chest. I’m working on a story right now which seems to fall into the category of Novella. That label applies to works that are of a particular length, somewhere between a short story and a full length novel. From what I have read, they are to follow the prescriptions for a short story, that is plot and characterizations. However, they are allowed to wander. How much remains a mystery. Every definition I read gives a different word count: 20,000 to 50,000 words and 50-100 pages, or up to 70,000 words and 125 pages. I think Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is 125 pages.

I’ve learned that a novella, a prose fiction work, originated in Italy in the Middle Ages and greatly influenced the development of the short story. It is still supposed to be a short and well-structured narrative, often realistic and satiric in tone.

I have known for some time now that short stories don’t have a huge marketplace. I now know that novellas seem to have almost none. I don’t know why they are treated like second class citizens. Amazon and Barnes and Noble don’t have a Novella category to explore if you want to read one. I have often entered my memoir, Becoming Alice in various contests and noticed that there never is a Novella category in which one can enter.

I’m not sure why I’m presently writing a novella. It must be that I’m encouraged by the fact that a novella, with its small size, is much easier to put into your back pocket than a Kindle, in case you are going on an airplane or the barber. I also feel good about being in the company of such great authors as Ernest Heminway Ian McEwen, Leo Tolstoy, Steven King, Stephanie Meyers, Cynthia Ozick, and the list goes on and on.

Now, all I need to do is write a book that is as good as any one of theirs.

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I’m spending more of my time writing again and it feels wonderful. I had started several pieces along the way these last couple of years that I’ve spent marketing Becoming Alice. They were pieces that I intended to be short stories but after I’d written about a dozen pages, I reached a dead end. I aborted all of them.

And then I got the idea that I should write an and then what happened piece to my memoir. So often when I’d done presentations about my book to various groups and often was asked what happened to this character or that character from the book. It reminded me of the time I was reading bedtime stories to my kids and when time ran out the kids begged, “But, then what happened?”

So, I decided to write about the period of time following the end of my memoir. It wasn’t going to be a sequel. I’ve always thought sequels usually aren’t as stong as the original work. An example is Frank McCourt’s ‘Tis which is in my opinion not at the same level to Angela’s Ashes. So I started writing an and then what happened short story.

Well now, I am not the kind of writer who makes an outline and has the whole storyline down pat before even writing the first word. I start writing and the work sort of takes me places which I may never have thought about before facing that blank page. For me it is more creative doing it my way.

So I began my short story and with the creative process in full bloom, my short story got too long to be a short story. I was not about to erase what I thought was quite interesting and read pretty well. I needed to do something quickly before I brought this story into the novel category.

The light bulb went off above my head and I came up with the answer. I am writing a novella! I dashed off to Wikipedia and learned that the definition of a novella needs to have a word count between 17,500 and 40,000 and can run as high as 70,000 words.

Perfect! I think that I will fall into that category. And … the icing in the cake is that I will be in good company with a novella. English language novellas include Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Herman Melville’s Billy Bud, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and many more.

Now, let’s hope I make my novella as good as ony one of theirs.

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In my last blog, I’ve talked about a memoir writer whose story turned out to be totally fabricated. But in thinking about this subject, I wondered if a memoir had to be entirely truthful and to what extent. Does every scene have to have happened? Does every word in a dialogue between people have to have been spoken word for word? How true to the actual occurance does memoir have to be?

When I began to study this genre intensively, I had a professor make a profound statement that stayed with me throughout the entire time I wrote Becoming Alice. In her class a student asked her how he could recall the exact words that were spoken beween his father and himself. The incident he was writing about occured many years ago. My professor smiled and answered, “Make it up.” She explained that it wasn’t necessary to recall every word exactly, you only needed to impart the meaning, the feelings, the emotions of the reparte. What you need to do is to draw the characters as they were. You could do so without parroting each word as it was said so many years ago.

I’ve written about a period in my life when I was quite young and I am often asked about how I could possibly remember it. Well, I remember precisely what occured. I remember the panic my family felt. I remember the character of each of my parents. I remember how each of them handled the threat to their lives. I remember all that.

But do I remember each word that was spoken beween all of us? No. I don’t. I did what my professor told us to do. I made up the words, but the incidents really happened and the meaning of what was said was the truth. I believe that this is what all memoirists do.

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I am what preople call a memoirist. I have not only written a book about an early segment of my life, Becoming Alice, but I am more likely than not one to pick a memoir to read over any other genre. I have just finished reading Elyn Saks memoir, The Center Cannot Hold, and know without a double that both of the above-mentioned books are true.

I am never sure about other memoirs authenticity however. Some time ago I had heard that Mary Karr’s memoir was fabricated. I do not know if that is true or not. How could I know such a thing? Then there was the case of the Oprah Book Club’s highly publicised con: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. It proved to be entirely fabricated. This book sold 3.5 million copies and was on the New York Times Best Seller list for 15 weeks. Now, if Oprah and her entire book club staff can be conned, how can we readers know fact from fraud?

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