Why Care About Fictional People?
A fictional writer needs to work really hard to make me connect with their invented characters. It is a real talent that very few manage to achieve. If I know the people actually existed then I find I have more compassion for them. I’m sure that the quality of Joe Simpson’s writing did not alter between his books, so I was surprised to discover that I didn’t care about the characters in The Sound of Gravity, his recent fictional book. I think this is simply down to the fact that I know they don’t exist and so I’m not rooting for their survival in the same way I am with those in his autobiographical work.
I also find I am far more tolerant of unrealistic plot threads in non-fiction. In fact, the more unbelievable the plot, the better. I am quite unforgiving of coincidences and extreme plot twists in fiction, but put exactly the same plot in a non-fiction book and I’ll be amazed, telling all my friends and family about it.
I am happy to accept a lower standard of writing if the non-fiction book reveals an insight into someone who is not normally a writer. An example of this is the outstanding Born on a Blue Day . The standard of writing was actually quite poor, but who cares when you can gain an insight into a completely different world? I have a far higher standard with fiction books – I am distracted by poor sentence structure and really appreciate writing quality.
Why don’t I read more non-fiction?
This leaves me asking the question: Why don’t I read more non-fiction? I’m beginning to think that I might enjoy it more as I seem to have lower expectations and more tolerance of its flaws. At the moment my favourite books seem to be historical fiction or books based on actual events, however recent. I love books that take real situations and then add characters with an emotional depth. Fiction gives the ability for history to be brought to life, without having to worry about accuracy. Non-fiction can be quite dry and facts often remove the book’s momentum, but perhaps I’m just reading the wrong ones?
Do you approach fiction and non-fiction with different expectations?
Can you recommend any non-fiction books with the narrative drive of fiction?