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Presenting fiction as non-fiction: how to do it?

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Offline Interceptor
29 Feb 2012, 10:51 AM | Post: #1

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Presenting fiction as non-fiction: how to do it?

Good morning all!

A bit of a strange question: I'm planning to write a fictional horror story with a difference. It will follow a group of students who move into a house with a dark past. All kinds of poltergeisty-badness (technical term) occurs and there are lots of frights to be had.

Now, in an attempt to make this a bit different, I would like to present it as non-fiction. So, descriptions of real-life research, hauntings, poltergeist cases and so on would be included, as would real places, alongside the fictional action. I would tell the reader that the names of those involved (and the locations) have been changed to preserve their privacy, and I will probably even include 'original' emails and photographs, but I would never actually write anywhere that the story is true.

I suppose the nearest things to this idea would be movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.

Has anyone read anything like this before? Would I need to include a disclaimer somewhere that says the book is fiction? Any pitfalls to be mindful of?

Thanks in advance,

Matt
Offline B J Burton Reading Complete Works of H P Lovecraft
01 Mar 2012, 12:00 PM | Post: #2

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RE: Presenting fiction as non-fiction: how to do it?

Hi Matt
No one else has replied, so I'll have a go.
In principle, I don't think you can market fiction as non-fiction - I'm sure you don't want to be anything other than honest with readers.
In practise, when you apply for an ISBN you have to specify the genre, or, if only publishing for Kindle using KDP, during the submission process you have to select a category. So, if it's fiction it will be categorised as such from the outset.
For your legal protection you also need the usual disclaimer in the prelim pages, which will confirm that it is fiction.
A few years ago I published a book called A Hollow Sea. It told the true story of a young Cornishman, Thomas Ching, from a well-known Launceston family. He was determined to pursue a career at sea, but on a voyage on a ship called The Charles Eaton he was shipwrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. The crew built rafts from the ship's timbers and drifted off the reef, but Ching's raft eventually washed up on a small island and he was killed by cannibals. The events gave rise to a children's skipping rhyme that included the words, "From Eton to Eaton and eaten was Ching".
The author, Laurence Green, drew heavily on newspaper articles and official records. The shipwreck was the subject of a Board of Trade enquiry that supplied a lot of background information.
So, all of the events described in the book really happened and the characters mentioned were real people. But the author chose to write it as a story, creating appropriate dialogue between the characters. As a result we had to describe it as a 'novelisation of true events' and categorise it as fiction.
Hope that helps.
Barry
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Offline Interceptor
01 Mar 2012, 06:50 PM | Post: #3

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RE: Presenting fiction as non-fiction: how to do it?

Thanks for your reply, Barry. To clarify, there would be no dishonesty involved here, and I would certainly be including all the necessary things to show that the book was fictional, I'm just wondering how to do it subtly - if subtlety is even possible in this case.

Interesting stuff about A Hollow Sea, thanks for that. I might well go with something like your 'novelisation of true events', as much of the phenomena described in mine will be based upon real-life cases anyway. Hmm...
Offline Linda Gillard Reading JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte
01 Mar 2012, 09:23 PM | Post: #4

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RE: Presenting fiction as non-fiction: how to do it?

Hi Matt

Is this really a stylistic thing? Do you want it to read like a non-fiction book? If so then I would read a lot of non-fic and analyse what makes it different from a novel. (A journalistic, non-literary style for a start.) On my own bookshelf I've got Will Storr vs the Supernatural and John Geiger's The Third Man, both of which tell some rivetingly spooky stories, but in a dispassionate journalistic style. Perhaps you could look at those?

If you want to write in a non-fiction style that is as exciting and gripping as a novel, look at Joe Simpson'sclimbing memoir, Touching the Void which is thrilling. (And it were a novel you'd dismiss it as unbelievable!) John Fowles' The Collector might give you some ideas too, especially about using a journal to tell the story.

It's a fascinating idea! Good luck with it.
Offline John A. A. Logan
02 Mar 2012, 09:41 AM | Post: #5

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RE: Presenting fiction as non-fiction: how to do it?

Hi Matt,

Stylewise, also...you might not go far wrong by taking a look at Truman Capote's IN COLD BLOOD, or Norman Mailer's THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG.

Capote used to tell anecdotes about Mailer's disparaging of Capote's "non-fiction novel" narrative technique...for over a decade Mailer called it "a failure of the imagination"...but then Capote laughed when Mailer took up the same style himself to do THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG.

I realise your novel is fiction, but you want to strive for the style/appearance of non-fiction...so maybe studying those two masters of "non-fiction novel" narrative would give some ideas...(and they're just great books in themselves too).
All best, John
(Oh, and Tom Wolfe's THE RIGHT STUFF...or his MOO-MOOING THE FLAK CATCHERS...)
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Offline Notoriety Reading Five Days in May by Andrew Adonis
02 Mar 2012, 10:19 PM | Post: #6

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RE: Presenting fiction as non-fiction: how to do it?

I'm simply an onlooker here, or "reader". But what an iteresting and thoughtful discussion. Thanks peeps.

Tony
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