Wednesday, 9 October 2019




Creative and non-fiction, by strict definition, don’t belong together.

Non-fiction is true while creative thoughts come from the imagination or attenuated memories. According to Leon Dupuis, the creative in creative non-fiction comes into play by the author’s unique voice and style and opinion of the non-fiction.

A creative non-fiction author makes non-fiction stories read like fiction with the goal that the reader will be in love with both the facts and the fantasy. Creative nonfiction books such as Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean employ the literary techniques of fiction to report on actual people, places, and events.

I never understood the hullabaloo over the creative best-selling non-fiction book written by James Frey, A Million Little Pieces he wrote in 2006.  I absolutely loved the style of writing James Frey used. His total disregard for the use of quotation marks or italics for internal thoughts, using capital letters whenever he wanted to, his wavering wandering margins, and the freedom in his use of the writing technique called: stream of consciousness. His writing depicted the confusion, turmoil, and pain his mind was supposedly in during his forced withdrawal from drugs and alcohol.

The hullabaloo over his 2006 bestselling book was that he passed it off as a 100% true. It was correctly labeled as creative but it wasn’t 100% non-fiction. As Michiko Kakutani said about the Frey affair, “It is a case about how much value contemporary culture places on the very idea of truth.”
A memoir is understood to be as factual as memory permits. The very word, memoir, is based on the word, memory. Memories can be fallible. They can fade over time or be enhanced by emotions associated with that memory. However, a memoir must be based on some factual connection to a person, time, or place.

The problem with A Million Little Pieces is that it was first published as a true memoir. Therefore, readers and buyers expected it to be as true and factual as memories allowed.
Unfortunately, James Frey enhanced those memories with creative thoughts, his wild writing style, and ran over the cautionary yellow lines that separate fiction from non-fiction.

Was labeling A Million Pieces as true memoir James Frey’s idea? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps he trusted his agent too much. If the book had been published as creative non-fiction, the ruckus might never have happened and Frey’s ingenious style could have been heralded.

A true creative non-fiction artist makes non-fiction stories read like fiction so that readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.

All this persnickety perfectionism over exacto definitions of the nuances of different genre is what drove me to write a good disclaimer for my true crime memoir From Miracle to Murder: Justice for Adam and have it approved by a lawyer. My trigger for PTSD is to be falsely accused and I absolutely didn’t want that.

“The facts presented in this narrative were woven together from memory, journals, and testimony before and after trial, depositions, trial transcripts and more. She is infallible and did the best she could to depict the absolute truth.”

For more information on genres related to writing stories of one's heritage:



True Crime Memoir – Survivor: As Long As I Breathe
is dedicated to:
survivors of emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse,
those who have had to bury a murdered child,
former members of a religious cult based on misogyny,
children born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome,
and anyone who was falsely accused of a crime.




Joyce A Lefler is a true crime survivor and the author of
From Miracle to Murder: Justice For Adam.
She is a facilitator for Parents of Murdered Children,
a bereavement counselor, registered nurse,
and an advocate against abuse.

Connect with her:
Advocacy project:

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