I got chatting with a fellow-writer yesterday and we chatted about a perennial topic – what IS a short-story? How long does it need to be? How long CAN it be? When does a short-story cross into the realms of a novelette or a novel? (I swear I’ve seen “novella”)
I brought up Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon” works, in print and live on radio as examples of fiction. I thought of my memoirs.
The “Lake Wobegon” stories are a fiction that has been springing from Keillor’s mind for over forty years. To our minds lake Wobegon is a real place. After all, surely you can’t make up that stuff for forty years, and the characters in the story are consistent.
My memoirs are typed up over the past ten years as memories of a little town in Western Australia seep to the surface. They are written down as accurately as I can recall them, through the eyes of a ten-year old boy and across the mists of time. A sub-title reads “This is a memoir fabricated from my memory.”, for it is indeed dragged from my long term memory across a period of sixty years. I believe it to be true, although I may be off-track in minor ways in many cases.
Keillor’s work is fiction. Mine is fact.
Here’s the observation: In your mind, you cannot differentiates between the two. You have no way of knowing that Keillor’s work IS fiction (except that the brothers Carl and Clint don’t seem to have aged at all in forty years, and Dorothy at the Chatterbox café seems as worldly as ever, and just as nimble on her feet). Likewise you have no way of knowing that my work is NOT a work of fiction – after all, you have only my word for it.
Of course if I use a word-processor to change every person and place’s name in my work it appears as a work of fiction – there is nowhere you can go to verify the facts – but with the original names, the town you can visit, the people who were my schoolmates you can interrogate.
But in print, you cannot differentiates between the two works.
And when Keillor and I are dead, there is no-one you can turn to!