What happened to calling it fiction?

This I don’t get. Why the hell not just write a fictional novel based on real people, instead of writing a fake non-fiction version of it and get caught? In other words, why not just say up front its made-up, or better yet, label it as fiction and don’t say anything at all. That’s essentially why Hemingway did with “The Sun Also Rises” and kind of what David Simon and his gang does with The Wire. In fact, Hemingway and his publisher had the opposite concerns — that the characters and plot points in his Roman a clef would be too easily identifiable with real events and real people, who might be easily offended by his portrayal.

Is the label “memoir” so powerful in our times? Are we so caught up in Reality TV and real events that to label something fiction devalues it immediately? Well, how valuable are these fake memoirs now?

Update, 3/10/08 —NPR made the valid point over the weekend that fiction is difficult, and is judged as much by writing style as it is by plot. Non-fiction memoirs, on the other hand, are not judged as much by writing style. In other words, a shitty writer can make up for shitty writing by claiming something is true (i.e., it’s a true story by an amateur, so forgive the shitty prose); as a novelist, however, you need some style, as well as a good yarn.

Esquire magazine is trying it, but labeling it as fiction. In their case, it just seems like a bad idea, but at least they’re calling it fiction up front.


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