In Defence of Nonfiction

Some people object to nonfiction, saying it isn’t a story, because it’s real life and real life is not a story. (Note: these are usually not the people who object to fiction because it’s not real life, therefore made-up, therefore false: an entirely different problem about which I intend to write at length.) I happen to disagree, and I can explain why.

The essential elements of a story are character, plot, theme, conflict of some sort, rising action, denouement, and resolution. Real life has all of these. Stories need authours. Real life has an Authour. Therefore, real life which has happened is no less a story than something which seems to have its origin in the mind of a human. (I can argue that real life has its ultimate origin in a Mind also, but that’s another topic for another day, though if anyone wants me to go on about Intelligent Design, please let me know; I’m nothing loth.)

Stories have power, I hope you know (or why are you reading a blog where words are likened to swords?), and nonfiction has power also. The difference between fiction and nonfiction, in terms of power, is like that of two kinds of weapons, which are different but equally good. A cannon is good for taking out large sections of an army at once, but if you’re trying to conduct a private assassination, go for something like a knife. It’s hard to be subtle if you’re dragging a cannon around. On the other hand, if you’re alone and facing an army, a knife probably isn’t your best hope. So with fiction versus nonfiction, depending on what you’re trying to say, one might be more to your use than the other.

I write nonfiction sometimes myself. The two stories from SCA events which I have shared here are nonfiction. I write sometimes the tale of major holidays, though Easter is usually too much for me to put into words, there’s so much going on at all levels. Why? Well, sometimes the stories I’m part of in life show the themes and ideas I want to tell about in my writing. The story from Spring Coronation ended up surprising me that way. I don’t often know what a happening means until I’ve written about it, and I found when I finished that one that if I had to put in in one sentence, it would be that you can’t quite comprehend the majesty of the King of Kings until you’ve seen the majesty of an earthly king.

People will stop listening if in ordinary conversation you launch into a sermon, but they’re usually up for a story. And some people seem to think a story has more weight if it actually happened to the person telling it, for some reason. So there’s that argument, if you’re considering the power of words in relation to apologetics. For many defences are made in words.

But one of the most beautiful arguments for nonfiction, and one often overlooked, is Wonder. If someone sees life as a story and tells it as the story it is, the reader goes away with opened eyes, eyes that can now see life as Adventure and Romance (not, I protest, not the “oozy feeling”, in the words of my romantic sister), not humdrum, with every colour having its own significance and a fluttering rag becoming a banner and every sidewalk or dirt road leading into the Forest of Faraway and winding along the road to Faery. Fiction may lead to people longing for another world, which is good and right. But nonfiction can lead to people seeing their own world made new.

The words of G. K. Chesterton, who wrote much concerning Wonder, are fitting for this topic (and this is by no means the only thing he said):

Sunder me from my bones, O sword of God
Till they stand stark and strange as do the trees;
That I whose heart goes up with the soaring woods
May marvel as much at these.

Sunder me from my blood that in the dark
I hear that red ancestral river run
Like branching buried floods that find the sea
But never see the sun.

Give me miraculous eyes to see my eyes
Those rolling mirrors made alive in me
Terrible crystals more incredible
Than all the things they see

Sunder me from my soul, that I may see
The sins like streaming wounds, the life’s brave beat
Till I shall save myself as I would save
A stranger in the street.


About Nolie Alcarturiel

Creative Writing major and Philosophy minor, contemplating a Master's degree in Medieval History. I enjoy practically anything to do with medieval history, including the domestic arts, with an especial emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon Era. In my spare time I read endlessly, do medieval living-history, hold philosophical debates at the drop of a hat, and write books on even slighter provocation.
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8 Responses to In Defence of Nonfiction

  1. Hope Ann says:

    I love nonfiction! Things that happen in real life can be more outrageous and fascinating than anything an author could get away with while writing fiction.


    • noliealcarturiel says:

      That’s definitely part of its charm, the ability to get away with things that otherwise would have to conform to standards of realism. If it actually happened, no one can quarrel about it being impossible.
      I guess I’m only familiar with your fiction. What nonfiction have you written?


      • Hope Ann says:

        I’ve not written nonfiction. Well, nothing beside arguments on creation vs. evolution or articles on writing. But I love to read history… and a smattering or about anything else which catches my interest, from diet, to sleep, to how the brain works.


  2. thegermangolux says:

    So, I have me a question. You said above, “Fiction may lead to people longing for another world, which is good and right. But nonfiction can lead to people seeing their own world made new.” One of the shining points of fiction is that puts a spin on how we see the world around us, right? And doesn’t nonfiction (good nonfiction, anyway) bring to light the hints and prophecies of another world beyond our own?

    Now I’ve probably put a whole ‘nother blog post in the works.


    • noliealcarturiel says:

      Indirectly, the answers to those questions are yes and yes. But directly, I don’t think so, in most cases?
      A quotation that gets at what you’re saying, I think, is C. S. Lewis (yes, not Chesterton, for a change): “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”


      • thegermangolux says:

        What do you mean by directly and indirectly, exactly? And as to ‘most cases’ – most if not all of the great works of fiction that I’ve read have caused me to look at the world differently. Manalive, for example, showed me that the world is more healthy for a bit of insanity, and Le Morte d’Arthur helped me to remember that chivalry is never dead. Great works of nonfiction like the Books of Acts and Genesis (to keep it within the realm of nonfiction stories) uncover further facets of the world beyond this one.

        Nice quote, by the way. Is it Mere Christianity, or Abolition of Man?


  3. noliealcarturiel says:

    I don’t know where that comes from, I have only found it floating disembodied, through adventures similar to searching Google (if you have Internet) for philosophical quotes. It’s a good one, though, and so I remembered it.
    And to answer your question, here is an answer in the words of no less an authourity than the inevitable Chesterton.
    “Far away in some strange constellation in skies infinitely remote, there is a small star, which astronomers may some day discover. At least I could never observe in the faces or demeanour of most astronomers or men of science any evidence that they have discovered it; though as a matter of fact they were walking about on it all the time. It is a star that brings forth out of itself very strange plants and very strange animals; and none stranger than the men of science.”


  4. Pingback: In Defence of Nonfiction — Of Dreams and Swords | Arrowhead Freelance and Publishing

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