The Last Word (We Hope)

March 23, 2012 § 2 Comments


Tired of Daisey and D’Agata? So are we. With any luck, this will be our last post on the fact-shifting argument for a good long while. We promise, at least to try. In any case, the folks at Slate have made the parameters crystal clear with this handy chart:

To make life easier for would-be liars everywhere, we have attempted to answer that question with a handy visual guide. Some of our conclusions are obvious: If you’re a journalist, making stuff up is not a good career move. If you’re a fantasy writer, on the other hand, you’d better make stuff up by the chapter-load, or you’ll be out of a gig. But what if you fall somewhere in the middle?

Well, if you want to make stuff up, it helps to be funny. While David Sedaris’s books are classified as nonfiction, for example, no one seems to mind that they’re not all true. Likewise, stand-up comedians can tell you about the hilarious thing that happened to them last week, and no one will check to see if that hilarious thing really happened last week. Even if you’re writing a reported piece for a fact-checked magazine like Harper’s orRolling Stone, you might be able to throw in a few whoppers if you’re as funny as David Foster Wallace. (Try to write prose as memorable as his, too—that seems to have helped Truman Capote.)

You may also want to consider putting your story on film. While biographers get a hard time for documentable inaccuracies, biopics don’t get the same degree of scrutiny. If you write a true story, it should probably be true; if you make a movie “based on a true story,” people will assume you made a bunch of stuff up.


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§ 2 Responses to The Last Word (We Hope)

  • Elisabeth says:

    I’ve tried to address this issue, too, Dinty. I’m grateful for your posts, they help to put the issue in perspective.

  • Dinty, this is terrific. Should be required reading for every nonfiction writer, including, of course, journalists. Though how anyone could have mistaken an actor and his monologue as a journalist and journalism still boggles the mind.
    Linda (A veteran journalist who loves writing nonfiction – and I emphasize that what I write is just what it means ‘not fiction.’)

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