Wallenda’s Highwire Locale, and the Supermoon: “Creative” Nonfiction?

First, did you watch the breath-holding tightwire walk across a 1500 foot gorge next to the Grand Canyon? Holy crapballs that’s some freaky stuff. I guess they even built in a 10-second delay on the live broadcast “just in case.” Eek.

And how about that “Supermoon!?” What a night!

Pretoria South Africa phases of moon north vs south

Close-up of 2013 Supermoon as seen from Southern Hemisphere

Welcome to Manuscript Monday. Haven’t had one of these in awhile. So many wonderful guest bloggers during our move, and so many exciting South Africa posts since I arrived.

Actually there are enough South Africa posts to last me another month if I don’t even go take any more weekend trips, but since I need to get back on schedule working with this manuscript, which is due to my incredible editor by the beginning of August, I wanted to bring back Manuscript Monday.

I thought I would just bring up an ongoing discussion in the literary world, and place it next to a similar situation “in real life,” and ask you, “Where/when does it “matter” when “truth” isn’t fact?”

For those of you who heard the hype before Nik Wallenda’ highwire walk, you know that it was touted as a tightrope walk “across the Grand Canyon,” when actually the National Park Service didn’t allow it, so he had to walk across an equally deadly gorge immediately next to the grand canyon. If it weren’t already part of Navajo nation, it would most likely be part of the Grand Canyon anyway. Same terrain, same high winds and deadly pitfalls.

Does it matter?

Does it matter…to you?

There are many people angry that his stunt was touted as “across the Grand Canyon” because they felt it was false advertising and that they had been duped.

While the fact is that Nik Wallenda did not tightrope across the Grand Canyon, does it make his feat any less remarkable? engaging? historical?

Well, maybe that last one, yes? no?

Pretoria South Africa phases of moon north vs south

Supermoon? What supermoon? Looks tiny to me…

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In Creative Nonfiction, the arguments have been similar. Of course an example of this is James Frey, and his unfortunate lies in telling his story (which is really sad, because he’s actually a good writer, and his story would have been engaging enough without all the added drama).  But there are other published and academically accepted nonfiction writers who take a straightforward nonfiction piece and honor what they consider to be a higher truth than fact.

Let’s look at an example of changing dates. Perhaps a dramatic event occurred on a non-significant date (i.e. no historical or personal meaning). The author alters the chronology (without advising the reader) to put that dramatic event simultaneous with a meaningful or historical date.

Pretoria South Africa phases of moon north vs south

Playing games with the moon.

The argument for changing a fact, in this example, might come from one of two camps; (a) that it’s irrelevent to quibble over technicalities of dates when the way they remember it and symbolize it was because of its association to another date; or (b) that although not factual, the greater truth in their story (maybe the moral, if you will) needs those dates to be more significant for the overall work to correctly convey the author’s story to the reader.

As for me, I’ve stated this before: as a reader, I don’t really care if what I’m reading is nonfiction or fiction, as long as it’s a riveting and engaging story; but as a writer, I can’t conceive of doing something like that.  I guess my opinion as a writer is that if you’re skilled enough, you can use hypothetical, hyperbole and flashback in an honest way, so that the reader is given the drama through your eyes, not as a factual change.

Pretoria South Africa phases of moon north vs south

Supermoon above Pretoria, South Africa

And Wallenda?

As an average Jane, I don’t give a flying wheelbarrow of steaming monkey poop whether or not Wallenda tightroped the Grand Canyon or the Navajo Canyon. I would have lost the same fingernails to nervous biting. In my memory, he will most likely have tightroped the Grand Canyon, and whether factual or not, I’m okay with remembering his feat that way. I believe even if everything had listed it as “Grand Canyon-adjacent” ahead of time, the only thing in my memory would be the visual of those rocky cliffs and the chasm waiting for him below, should he make a mistake.

What do you think about the creativity in promoting that acrobatic feat? What about those books? Which camp are you in? Consider the case of oral narratives throughout history. Do those items passed down verbally from generation to generation count as non-fiction, or fiction? Or both?

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot more tolerance for hyperbole and factual changes in oral narrative inherited stories, because I know those changes keep them current; engaging; and effective. Why is oral narrative “nonfiction” accorded a different set of rules than written “nonfiction?”

What about comedy? When we attend a performance by a comedien who makes his living by exaggerating and deprecating his own life “story,” we expect the hyperbole and twisting of fact in order to deliver the joke.

Does it then just come down to expectation? And whose? I’m curious, because my expectation when reading memoir or essay is completely different than when I’m reading historical nonfiction or biography. What about you?

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Finally, a photo of last night’s supermoon. It was factually the closest to earth that it will be for all of 2013. If you were reading all the hype ahead of time, you might have expected that moon to be so much more impressive than any old full moon. But it wasn’t. Not really. It was bright, and big, but to this naked eye, didn’t really seem much brighter or bigger than a full moon on a clear night any other time of the year.

Pretoria South Africa phases of moon north vs south

A little moonlight in the right ventricle is just what the doctor ordered?

Was I disappointed? I wasn’t. Because I had so much fun trying to figure out our new camera (as you can see by the blurriness, I didn’t), playing with moon pictures and watching my moon shadow, that I realized I haven’t played out under a full moon in so long, because there is no “hype.” I forget about how much fun it is to play in the dark and do something out of my regular routine.

Is hyping it as a “supermoon” Creative Nonfiction? I doubt anybody would argue that, but it does make you ponder the really serious stuff, like “Does the moon really look like a big pizza pie?”

So many questions, never a final answer. Now back to my own afternoon of nonfiction.

May the Truth, truth,”truth” and “-ish” be with you…

Love, Marla

P.S. For my Fitness followers: finally tried the new gym today. Learning what I lift in kg, getting a feel for the new place and being the only female in the strength training area was not exactly ideal, but I made it through. Amazing how quickly I dropped my strength in only a month away from weights. 🙁

4 Comments on “Wallenda’s Highwire Locale, and the Supermoon: “Creative” Nonfiction?

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  3. Loved this post… about the oral narrative part, in India, for thousands of years… sacred texts were passed only by oral narration… in fact, the sacred Hindu texts such as the “Ramayana” or the “Mahabharata” were only written down in he 4th century AD… the oral narration of these texts have been around since the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization…also I believe that there are much more facets to an oral narrative, than to the written narrative… and therefore the oral narrative is probably more flexible… it’s a very interesting topic, thank you for bringing it up… also loved the pics of the supermoon… and you are absolutely correct, it didn’t look any different than a full moon on a clear night sky… 🙂 🙂

  4. You’re absolutely right! Some people get way too hung up on the facts having to be absolute, and forget that a few liberties are sometimes taken for the sake of interest. I think that as long as the crux of the story remains intact, who cares! Case in point: Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and held this country togeather! Does it really MATTER whether or not he had to kill some vampires along the way?!!

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