[S]cholars have demonstrated the essential fictive nature of all memory. The way we remember things is not necessarily the way they were. This makes memoir, by definition, a form in which reality and imagination blur into a “fourth genre.” The problems of memory also infect journalism when reporters, in describing the memories of sources and witnesses, wind up lending authority to a kind of fiction.

The postmodernist might think all this irrelevant, arguing that there are no facts, only points of view, only takes on reality influenced by our personal histories, our cultures, our race and gender, our social class. The best journalists can do in such a world is offer multiples frames through which events and issues can be seen. Report the truth? they ask. Whose truth?

… While subtraction may distort the reality the journalist tries to represent, the result is still nonfiction. The addition of invented material, however, changes the nature of the beast. When we add a scene that did not occur or a quote that was never uttered, we cross the line into fiction. This distinction leads us to two cornerstone principles: Do not add. Do not deceive.

– Roy Peter Clark, “The Line Between Fact and Fiction” in Telling True Stories: A Non-Fiction Writers’ Guide From the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Eds. Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, 2007, pp. 165-166.

Originally published on WordPress on Aug. 31, 2009