Saturday, February 1, 2020

Getting to the Truth

By Candace Fleming and Karen Blumenthal

Let’s start with a true story:

The summer Candy turned ten, she gobbled up a biography series about famous Americans. Ben Franklin. Clara Barton. Daniel Boone. The books brought these people from history to life for her. She felt like she truly knew them.

Later, she learned that many of the scenes in these books had been made up. Which parts? Who knows? The author hadn’t bothered to say. Candy felt deceived. Cheated. Biographies, she decided, could not be trusted, and she steered clear of them for years. 



That was decades ago, yet the line between nonfiction and fiction, between what is real and what is made up, seems blurrier than ever. And many of us seem suddenly confused about whether or not we’re crossing that line. At virtually every conference, (“Seriously,” Candy says, “every one”) the conversation turns to the question, “What is nonfiction?”  Or as one writer asked a panel of editors, “Can I still call my work nonfiction if I’ve added scenes that never happened, or dialogue that was never spoken?”



It’s a good question, and one we’d  like to consider at the start of our month-long exploration of the craft of nonfiction. Is what we’re writing based on supposition or personal bias rather than fact? Are we presenting our readers with honest scenes and characters that spring directly from the research material? Is background research – the context – reliable and complete? Our trustworthiness depends upon our truthfulness.

So, can we still call our work nonfiction if we’ve added scenes that never happened, or dialogue that was never spoken? What if we’ve conflated time, or created a composite character, or added sounds, smells, textures to scenes for which we have no documentation? Is that nonfiction?

Our answer is a resounding NO. It is unacceptable to pass fiction off as fact. Not even a little bit. Not even for the sake of art. Not in the name of emotional truth, or a better story. No, no, no, not ever. (Phew, we feel better!)  Every word spoken, every emotion displayed, every thought, every detail must be true. Even the weather. Even the color of the rug. It is our job to verify everything, check and double-check. All the details must be accurate. They must have a source. And if we make up even a teensy bit we must call our work “fiction.”  

 

To do otherwise is to deceive our readers. After all, when we say to kids, “this is nonfiction,” we’re promising that the way a person or event is presented is – to the best of our knowledge – truly how it happened. And I think we all agree that promises, especially to children, should never be broken.

So how do we dig down to the truth? How do we keep our nonfiction promises? Let’s examine some operating principles:

1. You’ve read a great book, interviewed a fascinating person or collected some startling facts online. Now you’re ready to start writing, right?

Sure, put down your initial thoughts, especially to capture your excitement. But never rely on a single source for your story, even for a short picture book. One view is never the whole picture.

2. Just because it appeared in print doesn’t mean it’s right. Both of us have found significant errors even in best-selling books by famous journalists and historians. Read footnotes and track down sources yourself, to make sure they’re legitimate and accurately portrayed.

Sometimes, we find that a mistake is repeated many times because everyone quoted the same inaccurate source. Double check dates and events through local newspapers or archives. (If you don’t have a subscription, you can usually access databases through your local library.) 

3. Primary sources are great – to a point. Autobiographies, oral histories, lengthy interviews and letters are amazing resources and often yield the best details, right down to what your main character ate for lunch. But every single person we’ve written a book about has stretched, embellished, or sugar-coated personal stories. It’s human nature.

The nonfiction writer’s job is to cut through the veneer and offer a clear-eyed portrayal. Look for accounts from others who were there or would know the story. Interview experts. Dig into archives. Examine photographs for clues.

4. Consider the source – and the lens the source looked through.  Many times, we’ve found that male authors from previous decades are quick to distort or diminish women’s accomplishments, or to call them “crazy” when they weren’t crazy at all. (Poor Mary Lincoln! Poor Carry Nation!) Similarly, people of color and indigenous peoples are frequently misrepresented in works by white authors. Seek out perspectives that aren’t white or male.

5. Go back to the beginning. The older the story, the more likely it has morphed into something different. People’s memories fade and shift, and stories can change completely over time. As best you can, work back to the origins of the story to be sure what you know is right.

6. Admit that some things are unknowable. Sometimes we can’t verify  what someone said or did. Sometimes, we just don’t know. So, rather than making something up, say so, either by attributing the information directly to the source in the text or explaining that something isn’t known. And painful as it is, sometimes we conclude that we have to just leave that juicy, fascinating tidbit out.

7. Share your research. Any worthwhile nonfiction should include at least a list of key sources behind the story. Longer form books should have some kind of source notes, whether they list sources for each quote or something more detailed.

True, kids may never look them up. But this is our way of being honest with the reader. After all, we promised to tell a true story!


ABOUT THE AUTHORS
 



Karen Blumenthal writes biographies and narrative nonfiction for young people, including Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different and Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition. Her books have received several awards, including a Sibert Honor, and have been finalists for the YALSA Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award three times. Her next book, Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights, is out Feb. 25 from Roaring Brook Press. When she’s not working, she is a dedicated procrastibaker and a hopeless Dallas sports fan.


 




Candace Fleming writes picture books, middle grade and YA biographies. Among her nonfiction titles are Giant Squid, Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia.  2020 titles include The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh and Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera.  She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Orbis Pictus Award, as well as the two-time recipient of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, the ALA Sibert Honor, and SCBWI’s Golden Kite Award.



 

ABOUT THE PRIZES

Karen Blumenthal is giving away a selection of nonfiction books for older readers.

Candace Fleming is donating a manuscript review of a nonfiction picture book no longer than five manuscript pages.

Leave one comment below about what struck you in the post.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered NF Fest participant and you have contributed one comment below.

310 comments:

  1. I appreciate the advice about seeking out perspectives that aren't white or male. People have been spinning the truth forever.

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  2. Thank you. I appreciate how clear you are with your NO and your many excellent strategies for fulfilling our promise to children.

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  3. Discovering, as a child, that my favorite biography series was full of inaccuracies and flights of imagination was jarring. Some so-called biographies chock full of fictional details are still being sold today. Kids deserve better.

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  4. Searching for the truth is as much a journey for the author as it is for the reader. I appreciate the responsibility you are putting on the writer to contribute to this journey with integrity and honesty.

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  5. I was at a conference where a similar question was asked of the panel. It is disappointing to know there are published writers out there who didn't know (or care) that inventing scenes and dialogue makes their work fiction.

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  6. Helpful info on finding the most accurate sources!

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  7. What do you think about the concept of "informational fiction"? Is this a better way to characterize stories that are solidly based in fact and research, yet take a few artistic liberties? Thanks!

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  8. Bravo Candy and Karen for starting this series out with the most asked question about NF. As a former school librarian aI heartily agree. We owe to the kids to give them the truth, especially when truth seems to be in short supply in our world today. THANK YOU both.

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  9. Number 6-yes it's so hard to leave out that juicy detail that you can't verify! On another note, I would love to hear more from an illustrator's point of view. Although things need to be accurate for the time and place the work may be taking place, illustrators have to fill in the blanks all the time (what someone was wearing, what their house looked like, etc), when these things may have never been documented.

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  10. What a great start to the month. So important to check multiple sources and not perpetuate misinformation. Look forward to following throughout the month.

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  11. One more time! I hope I don't have multiple comments. Thanks for this advice. I'm trying to figure out which of two sources that say different things is accurate. Did someone make something up?!
    Gail Hartman

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  12. Thanks for the reminder to dig deep and use journalistic methods to seek out the truth rather than going for the easy.

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  13. A good list of things to do, and things to avoid. Children deserve our best. Thank you, both.

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  14. I liked the reminder to verify information even when it's from a respected best selling book.

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  15. This is a perfect topic for a NF newbie like me!

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  16. What a great start. Fact, the foundation of our NF work. I like these seven principles. They deserve to be printed and tacked on my wall above my desk.

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  18. What a great way to kick off this great series!!

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  19. This reminds me why I love nonfiction--the research! And also why I'm intimidated--the research!

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  20. Amen! Well said. The "non" in front of fiction = non-negotiable. I think our astute young readers would agree.

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  21. I like how you draw a very clear line. You either have solid evidence that it’s true or you don’t. When I teach writing creative nonfiction for adults, I use Lee Gutkind’s You Can’t Make This Stuff Up. He is known as the “godfather of creative nonfiction.” Most of what he says is in line with your post, though I think he is a little more flexible on dialog.

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  22. Candace Fleming and Karen Blumenthal teaming up for NFFest--wow. Two super truth-seekers. Your books are prominently located on my "autographed books" shelf. Notes from your NF4NF sessions, and Candace's NF Beachside Retreat session, are nestled in journals kept near my desk. Much respect for your work and inspiration. Thank you for a NF "truth-clarification" right out the chute. Bravo. Kids deserve the truth. We are their models. Walt Whitman's "There was a child went forth every day" from Autumn Rivulets Collection, 1855, encapsulates the effects of the experiences of children.

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  23. I appreciate the reminder to look at photographs with a discerning eye.

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  24. Reading different perspectives about your subject, being careful how you texture the small moments, letting an unverified juicy tidbit go....good stuff. Thank you!

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  25. With so much “fake news” and the internet perpetuating it, FACTS matter. Thank you for reiterating this. Non fiction = not fake!

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  26. I remember finding conflicting facts in books when I wrote my first report on General Custer many moons ago in second grade. I felt confused and betrayed. I never want to be the writer who does that to a child.

    Janine Ungvarsky

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  27. I can relate to #6 and how gut-retching it is to leave out a juicy tidbit because I wasn't confident it was in fact true. Thank you for reiterating fact is nonfiction and frills are fiction.

    Nicki Jacobsmeyer

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  28. All the information presented here resonates but in particular, I appreciate your note about something being printed isn't necessarily true. I've been frustrated by conflicting or unverifiable sources. Also, I liked your reminder to seek out others' perspectives. It is so important to getting a truer picture.

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  29. So true about conflicting facts in books, including best sellers. When I was researching Irving Berlin for my YA book, I contacted his eldest daughter and she told me that the "bible" on her father, an adult book, contained so many factual errors that she sent the author a 3-page typewritten letter! I had oodles of research (Berlin lived to 101) and made sure every single fact was correct. Our readers deserve nothing less.

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  30. I am sure I read the same biography series Candace refers to. This is also the reason I love biography! Thanks for your insight into your writing process.

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  31. Just thinking how much is necessary to put together a nonfiction book is intimidating but interesting prospect. Hoping to learn more about the process :)

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  32. This post really surprised me. The idea I can't put anything in the story that is not factual is a very difficult thought. I plan on learning a lot this month!!! Thank you for teaching and sharing your knowledge. :)

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  33. Wonderful post on being truthful and factual. Our children deserve honesty in nonfiction. I have always loved a good biography.

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  34. What a pleasure to have the authors state clearly, No, No and No, you may not put in made up dialogue or anything else. And yes, I have seen 'factual' errors repeated in historical research. So annoying. Thanks for clearing this up.

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  35. Thank you for your post. I especially appreciated the reminder to consider the lens the source was looking through. Am reminded of a Jean Fritz quote: "My beat may lie in another time, but my approach is that of a reporter, trying for a scoop, looking for clues, connecting facts, digging under the surface." (Children's Books and Their Creators
    By Anita Silvey)

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  36. Thank you Candace and Karen! I really appreciate that primary sources are great, to a point. How true is that. Of course people are going to sugar coat their own stories. It's great to be reminded of that! Thank you again!

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  37. This is fantastic! I loved the reminder to check sources and making sure the "print" version really is correct. Great job!

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  38. Thanks for the information and reminder of how important accurate research is. I look forward to learning more all month!

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  39. The part about even primary sources will have to checked resonated a lot with me! Thank you.

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  40. Great advice to start off the fest--truth and honesty. I still need clarity about creative NF, but I'm sure we'll hear about that this month.

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  41. I’m so excited to dive into NF info this month! All of my books have historic value. The first 2 are NF; the history of Evansville, IN and a MG biography. The rest are all historical fiction.
    I wish this opportunity had been available before all of my precious books came out. Thx ladies!! Waving to Candy!! 👋

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  42. Seeking the truth always takes lots of research, especially from primary resources, even secondary resources are equally important! Thanks.

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  43. This is the perfect start to NF Fest and an excellent reminder about how to approach research. Thank you!

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  44. Thank you for the thoughtful article. It certainly brings home the idea of careful resseaarch.

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  45. This is making me think more about a book I'm working on that mostly sources the individuals autobiographies, of which there are several. Besides worrying that I can't quote directly without permission, I may need to go deeper and bring in more sources.

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  46. Last night my son said to friends that he now trusts the facts in nonfiction picture book far more than older adult nonfiction, because he knows that for recent books in the kidlit world, nonfiction is completely true. Thanks for this post!

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  47. Thank you Candace and Karen,
    I am a visual person and love the idea of examining photographs for clues.

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  48. Thank you Candace and Karen for sharing your insights and encouraging us to dig deeper and give our readers just the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

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  49. Yes...this is so important! Our readers all deserve to know exactly what is definitely true and what is perhaps true. And number 6 is huge for me! I’ve had to leave out that juicy tidbit a couple of times...ouch!

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  50. I appreciate the definitive answer about what is not non-fiction as so much of what is labeled non-fiction actually isn't. This was a good reminder to kick off the event.

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  51. Many of those books are still out there. Thanks for clarifying.

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  52. Do I have to pick just one tid bit that strikes me? Everything about this post resonates with me.

    Thank you for beginning with two amazing and admired authors. I appreciate all seven of the NF Chicks.

    Suzy Leopold

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  53. The bulk of my current manuscript's research comes from autobiographical info and interviews/presentations. Your third point about giving a clear-eyed portrayal is helpful. Thank you!

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  54. What a great first post for NF Fest! Thank you! What struck me most is the advice about primary sources - even those need to be confirmed. I think I have more research to do!

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  55. I agree with the commandment to tell ONLY THE TRUTH. But this does favor modern and American topics, which are easier to research. The farther in the past and the farther from the US, particularly in another language, makes research more difficult.

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  56. I loved biographies when I was young too and as an adult, I do feel cheated by how much information I consumed that was not accurate. I'm working on my first biographical book and this post helps underscore the importance of getting the facts right. Thank you!

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  57. Excellent reminders and advice. Thank you!

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  58. Thank you for emphasizing the importance of consulting multiple sources and trying to chase down all the facts and every angle, in the name of accuracy. Great post!

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  59. What hit me the most about your excellent blog was to realize that not all secondary sources are accurate. I recently had an expert review my WIP, and she said, "I'm curious about where you found this one scene. You know, XX's book is full of fiction." Wow! What an eye-opener. And a case in point for having experts review your work. I've had two review this one--one a woman and one a non-white male. I am so grateful for them!

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  60. This was a great post to start the month of NF. Thanks, Karen and Candace, for reminding us to verify, verify, verify.

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  61. I loved historical fiction as a kid. It's magical when a nonfiction writer can evoke the same sense of story as historical fiction while still only using facts.

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  62. I love your advice of "being honest with the reader". Oh how much I was looking forward to February. Now it's finally here and I am sooo thankful for your teachings!!!

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  63. I found your definitive stance on how to tell the truth in nonfiction helpful both as a writer and a teacher of middle school students who write oral history essays each year. Oh, how they want to invent dialogue to make a scene more interesting! This post will help me better explain why this isn't ok and give them alternative options!

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  64. Thanks for the great overview on what NF really is. I'm excited to dig into research and I'm also interested in learning more about the guidelines for writing creative nonfiction.

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  65. Thanks for the tip to leave out the part that cannot be confirmed. Sometimes I stop whenever I cannot confirm something instead of figuring out a workaround.

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  66. Thanks for stating so clearly what nonfiction is NOT.

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  67. Thank you for the specific examples here too, good reminders for all writers.

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  68. A resounding "yes" to the insistence upon leaving out imagined emotions, inner thoughts, and the like. I've noticed some clever ways in which some top-notch nonfiction writers for the adult market have presented what, for example, the sights and sounds and smells of a past scene were like (for example, a ship carrying convicts to Australia based on fact) and wondered if this is what the subject of the biography encountered without claiming that it was what they experienced, making clear what is fact and what is speculation.

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  69. Great post! Really appreciate the part about 'not everything in a book is always true.' Great reminders to stay focused on the truth.

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  70. This post answers a lot of questions. Now it is a real challenge to get the story right. Thank you.

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  71. I love this post. Thank you very much! What struck me is #3. To trust autobiographies, to a point. I like how you recommend looking at things from other's perspectives as well, such as through photographs or researching other people who were there.
    I also resonated with the personal story at the beginning. I remember when I found out what "historical fiction" was. I was devastated! I thought the movies I'd watched and books I read based on a time in the past had to be true stories with every detail and fact in them true.
    -Rebecca Blankinship

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  72. Thanks for the great description of what is and isn't nonfiction. And yes, some things are unknowable. I think that can be a useful point to include in a manuscript!

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  73. Yep, I read a biography about Marie Antoinette when I was a kid and now I'M wondering what was true or not? But I'm not sure it's possible to know word-for-word dialogue; I can't even remember my own conversations when I write up my slice-of-life essays. So I need to read a biography or two or twenty to make sure I get your points. :-)

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  74. What a fantastic way to start. I always wondered about this. Thanks for letting us know.
    - Karen Brueggeman

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  75. I appreciate your very clear advice to write facts.
    Your tips are being printed. Thank you.

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  76. Thanks for the reminders. I didn't expect to already be creating a TBR list, not just from the authors of this post, but also craft books mentioned in the comments. Thanks!

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  77. I like that you can never, ever put anything in that isn't true, even if it will make the book more rounded. Thank you!

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  78. Excellent post, Candace & Karen. I was struck by the reminder that - "humans sugar-coat the truth." So even though you have that awesome interview, you need to verify the facts from other sources, too. Thanks! - Maria

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  79. From Julia Wasson -
    thank you! I would be tempted to think that primary sources are automatically true!

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  80. Source bias is somethign that I cover with my students (https://wow-womenonwriting.com/classroom/SueBE_Research.php). It surprises many of them that sources, even primary sources, are biased.

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  81. I liked the straightforward advice about writing nonfiction.

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  82. "Similarly, people of color and indigenous peoples are frequently misrepresented in works by white authors." This statement resonated most with me. As a POC, I can't tell you how many times I have been disappointed when read a book that clearly shows the writer misrepresented my culture.

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  83. Thank you for this great post plus generous giveaway and manuscript review opportunities. As a former professional journalist, I know how important the facts are at all times. That's why I love the transition into writing nonfiction for children!

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  84. As a journalist, I appreciate the reminder that people are prone to embellishing their own stories. (Doesn't mean they want to mislead you; it's human nature.) Primary materials and interviews are indeed key to good research, but it is absolutely essential to rely on multiple sources and to question everything. Great post!

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  85. What stood out to me most was the hesitancy to rely on primary sources. I guess I hadn't really thought about primary source bias before. What about when the secondary sources are limited? The lens seems to be "controlled," definitely sugar-coated with bias, or simply the general facts copied over and over again? (I'm sure part of this answer is KEEP DIGGING, right?)

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  86. Thank you for the invaluable advise and for reminding us about the important responsibility for honesty that we have to our readers.

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  87. Thank you for a fantastic list of principles to begin NFFest! The emphasis on using multiple sources made my librarian heart cheer. Looking forward to learning more about writing this genre!

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  88. Great advice for sure! I love opening a box of photos that people may not have touched in decades-thrilling to find something unique. Thank you!

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  89. Fascinating! Putting biography aside for a moment To inquire about non-fictional science books.As a poet, I always assumed that poetry collections by authors such as Joyce Sidman(in books such as Dark Emperor) were non-fiction. Now I am assuming that, because of the poetic elements, they must be labeled info-fic. Please set me straight if I am wrong. Thank you! Forgive me if I am getting ahead of yourAgenda or maybe the type of book I am talking about is not included in nf but in science writing. As you can see, I'm clueless.:D Thank you!

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  90. Thank you for the comprehensive advice. Writer responsibility and integrity essential. Great first post.

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  91. Great post, and I so agree with the part about autobiographies being embellished, etc. I've also learned that people writing their autobiographies aren't good about checking to make sure they have the dates rights.

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  92. Thank you for the tips. What struck me was that finding information several times STILL doesn't necessarily confirm that it is true. We really need to discriminate.

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  93. Not sure why my name doesn't appear.
    Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw
    Thank you for the tips. What struck me was that finding information several times STILL doesn't necessarily confirm that it is true. We really need to discriminate.

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  94. The real struggle is presenting just the facts in an exciting, engaging way. I am grappling with making sure that my biography is not dry or like a textbook.

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  95. I have so much to learn! Thank you for this great beginning to NF Fest!

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  96. This is such a tough call...any time they deal with real people or events TV and movies imply that it's all true. They rarely distinguish between what is and what is not real.
    The creative ways to describe what we do (ie. historical fiction) is the only thing we can do.

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  97. Thank you Karen and Candace. I belong to a writing group that is always arguing over whether a piece is fiction or nonfiction. Thank you for taking a firm stand!

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  98. Such great reminders to get us started!!

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  99. Thanks so much for a great kick off to the month.

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  100. I appreciate the strong, clear stance on fiction vs. nonfiction. !

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  101. Thanks for pointing out that even autobiographical accounts need to be checked. Technology makes it easier and harder-- we have to be extra vigilant because some accounts may be fake news.

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  102. I never even thought that autobiographies would not be accurate--it makes so much sence because memories change over time. I always try to find 3 reliable sources for each fact and have often left facts out because I couldn't verify them, despite how "cool" they were.

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  103. I have found that journals and diaries can be good sources, but even then, it's always good to have more than one source if possible.

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  104. It never occurred to me to look for sources written by women or minorities. I can see how relying on accounts from white men could really skew our perception of events. I imagine it's going to be difficult to find other accounts, but I'll sure start looking for them.

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  105. I also loved biographies as a kid! All the names mentioned above, and especially one about Molly Pitcher. I guess I have always been naive about nonfiction--it never occured to me things were made up! I have plenty to learn. Thanks for sharing your posts. The subjects you've written about are amazing.

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  106. "Just because it appeared in print doesn’t mean it’s right." is what struck me. We have to make sure to do our research!

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  107. This is the perfect kickoff post for NF Fest! Its clarity will help many writers struggling to determine the line between nonfiction and fiction.

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  108. Thank you for the list of research suggestions.I never thought about personal stories being embellished...but that makes sense just thinking of the stories passed down in my own family and how different family members remember different versions!

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  109. Great post to start the month off right! Thank you!

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  110. Marie-Therese MillerFebruary 1, 2020 at 12:18 PM

    Oh, I have left those juicy, unverifiable details out. Ugh!

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  111. I am so glad you've drawn a clear line in the sand: nothing made up! I agree. I read a biography of someone (after delving into research) and my mouth dropped when the author took an event --one that was well-documented -- and changed it completely. It made the subject look like she had a wholly different outlook and personality, going from feisty to demure. I had to wonder what the motivation was.

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  112. Thank you for the post! Such a good reminder that sometimes errors are repeated in multiple texts. It is important to triangulate the data!

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  113. Thank you for the reminder to be careful and accurate!

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  114. Great advice. A perfect starting point for the month!

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  115. The point that resonated with me was about how even our primary sources may have embellished or sugar-coated. I liked the advice about researching photos!

    "Autobiographies, oral histories, lengthy interviews and letters are amazing resources and often yield the best details, right down to what your main character ate for lunch. But every single person we’ve written a book about has stretched, embellished, or sugar-coated personal stories. It’s human nature.

    The nonfiction writer’s job is to cut through the veneer and offer a clear-eyed portrayal. Look for accounts from others who were there or would know the story. Interview experts. Dig into archives. Examine photographs for clues."

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  116. Wow, that made me rethink everything I've been writing! I write ficinformational but sometimes I call it nonfiction for ease. NOT ANYMORE! Thank you Candace and Karen!

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  117. I like how straightforward you are about what we should be calling nonfiction. Misinformation is repeated. Memories are embellished. Both great reminders as we research. Thanks!

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  118. That's a great point that numerous sources can have the same information because they got it from another general source. Great post!
    Ashley Congdon

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  119. This was a wonderful post to start with. I am curious how you feel about fictional adaptations as part of the literary nonfiction genre and using the line "based on a true story." I love your tips on research, and I am excited to dive into NF!

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  120. Some really great points in this post about not making up what we don’t know. “The line between facts and fiction is blurrier than ever.” I’ve said these exact words lately more than once. I was recently helping a high school student with research and explained how she needed to cite all her sources and when possible use primary sources. We talked a lot about this and I’m sure they are teaching it in school, but I wonder how seriously people take it.

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  121. A perfect first post for the NF Fest.

    Thanks for all the info.

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  122. A great start! Thanks for sharing.☺️

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  123. A very good hard hitting post. It explained and clarified a great deal. Thanks

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  124. Thank you for the great post and start to the NF Fest! I appreciated reading that sometimes, things are "unknowable," and the good suggestion to admit the unknowable or leave them out. Resist temptation! (but not dark chocolate) Priscilla

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  125. Thank you for your post! I have found errors myself when one source is repeatedly used over and over. Great point about autobiographies!

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  126. Great first post to start off a new month of a new year of a new decade and a new NF challenge. Thank you for all you're doing. Mona Pease

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  127. Yes! to "Just because it appeared in print doesn’t mean it’s right." I work at a library and was tasked with tracking down EB White's first published short stories when he was a child. Multiple sources provided the WRONG volume and page number for where his first story was published in St. Nicholas Magazine. Even a published book had the information wrong! I finally had luck tracking the stories down using an online archives.

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  128. Thank you for you clear advice. It was very helpful.

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  129. Thank you thank you thank you !!!! Nicky in New Zealand here. I have this very debate with my mother ( a journalist) frequently. Get completely fed up with the news sensationalising things to the point of fiction! Very constructive piece of writing!

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  130. Thank you, Candace and Karen, for these tips regarding operating principles to dig for the truth and to keep our nonfiction promises. Inspiring post ladies.

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  131. Thank you Candace and Karen. As a newcomer to NF all the operating principles are so helpful! This list is a keeper.

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  132. Non-fiction is not my genre,(I am here to learn), but I did believe non-fiction could be fudged with unverified facts, such as an added character or in dialogue, so I learned quite a bit reading this post. I think I confuse non-fiction with historical fiction. Thank you for the lesson.

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  133. I'm new to nonfiction, so this is first heard. It's good to know the ground rules, and I think you have framed them well. Thank you.

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  134. Great list of tips to get thr month started! Thanks for sharing.

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  135. Great post! I especially like the point about reviewing original sources. Not only does this bypass the filters of other interpretations, you never know when you'll find a gem that others have overlooked.

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  136. Thanks for the clear definition and the clear explanation.

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  137. Thanks for this interesting post. I have been submitting a pb bio, so it was very relevant to me and something I've spent a lot of time thinking about. What struck me was considering the source and the lens through which they viewed the subject.

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  138. Thanks for clarifying what makes something fiction or non-fiction. As I research and write a new project, I will use those guidelines to see if it truly can be a non-fiction book, or if it needs to be more of a fictionalized account "based on actual events."

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  139. A resounding "No" is right! I'm not sure why there's confusion and appreciate you addressing the issue.

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  140. Thank you for a great start to NF Fest. I too found inconsistencies when I was researching a subject for a bio and the reprinting of some of them in other books. I was surprised and also excited when I found the truth.

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  141. Thanks for sharing! The comments about finding errors during research resonated with me. I once found an error in an encyclopedia. It was eventually corrected and a new edition was published. Also, I recently read an excellent award-winning NF PB (circa 2001) with this line, MC "thought of the hours he'd spent outside as a boy." I couldn't see how the author would know what the MC was thinking at the time. It is classified as NF.

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  142. Thank you for the very interesting post! I'm new to non fiction and I feel ready to start. What a great reminder about old stories at pt. 5, so true!

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  143. I love digging for the truth for my NF stories. Talking to the experts is my favorite thing to do. Interviewing and researching is fun! :)

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  144. So excited that NF Fest is here! Hi, Everyone!

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  145. I hope this isn’t a duplicate comment (this is my fourth try in a different way, but also the first time I see myself logged in on blogger!!!

    Thank you so much for having this amazing web site and running the NFFest. And thanks to McM for posting on FB about NFFest!

    I think what surprised me the most is the fact that NF books children read may or may not have fully factual or accurate information. You just kind of assume the authors did their due diligence in their research, though, historical information, as you both said, is not accurate regarding women or minorities because of our bigoted and sexist society.

    I’m so excited for this! Thank you again!

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  146. My journalism training has come in so handy in writing NF. Thanks for the reminders!

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  147. Thank you for this informative post. Great advice to keep in mind as we all move forward.

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  148. It can be so frustrating to have an unverifiable snippet you REALLY want to include, but can't. We truthtellers must be strong. : ) Thanks for today's post.

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  149. I adore this, ladies. So clear and true. It also sounds very intense, you are wonderful people to dig so deeply!😍

    Sincerely,
    Kaitlyn Sanchez

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  150. The truth is interesting, but not always easy to find. That makes an accurately researched non-fiction book so much more valuable!

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  151. A fascinating read to start the month. Thank you. I am super-interested to see what other information we learn through the NF Fest. I'm particularly keen to learn where 'creative non-fiction', 'narrative non-fiction', 'historical fiction' pieces for kids fit alongside true non-fiction work.
    Thanks again!

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  152. Thanks for this informative post. I'm looking forward to learning even more as we go through this month.

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  153. An important opening to a critical kidlit topic. Thank you, Candace and Karen for underscoring that even those enriching details of smell, sound, and texture are among those that must be documentable for inclusion in a pure non-fiction story. It can otherwise be so tempting to 'imagine' from the facts we DO know.

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  154. Fantastic! I write science-themed picture books, so I don't have the same issues with tracking down quotes, but love the reminder to check and double-check the facts before putting them into a book.

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  155. I'm currently writing a PB Bio and am loving this post.

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  156. A thoughtful foundational post for the start of NF Fest 2020. Thank you!

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  157. Thank you for diving right into it!
    If I am able to print this out, I would love to.




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  158. OMG such a powerful start to NF Fest! Happy to be a part of this group!

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  159. I'm a little nervous. This is my first time in non-fiction waters.

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  160. Thanks for reiterating that every single detail must be true. I've heard often that some things can be inferred, but I've always wondered if that was ok. It didn't seem so to me. Thanks for getting this month started off on the right foot!

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  161. Admit that some things are unknowable. That is a super important statement! And it’s okay, too!

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  162. Thank you for the great post!

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  163. Wonderful breakdown, and I will say admitting that it is okay not to include unverified stories makes it so much easier to teach our students about nonfiction stories.

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  164. I like being reminded that people’s memories can be fuzzy and that even ones very close to your subject can have a bias in how they remember something.

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  165. Thank you so much for this wonderfully informative post.

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  166. Loved reading biographies as a child. Great reminder check my facts. Thank you ❤️

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  167. What a great way to start the fest, reminding us to keep digging as we research, and not settling. Even primary sources need to be sniffed out. I love to hear the stories of peoples' pasts, but keeping the facts "the facts" without adding a juicy tidbit that might not be true, although tempting, is unacceptable for our readers and ourselves as we get caught up in writing the story. Thank you for these reminders!

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  168. I am just so glad to hear that nonfiction should really be nonfiction. Thank you, and what a great first post to get us started. Focus in on the truth.

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  169. So important to tell the truth- and only the truth- to kids in nonfiction. Thank you for a helpful set of principles to work with!

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  170. What a great beginning to NFFest! Making up things is NOT OK!! I love that you were so emphatic and then helpful about how to check sources and be sure it's factual. Thank you.

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  171. Thanks for sharing what you know about writing non-fiction. It's so important that kids are able to differentiate the difference between fact and fiction. I love historical fiction as a child and adult. But I do sometimes wonder if stuff put in there is fact or fiction. As an adult, I can look things up, but a young reader may not know how to do this or even want to do this, taking at face value what they've read.

    So, yes, focus on the truth.

    I have a question in regards to "But never rely on a single source for your story, even for a short picture book. One view is never the whole picture." -- what if the book you're working on has truths coming from the one source whose memoirs you've based your PB on?

    Psyched to learn more. Thank you!

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  172. Thank you for the great article. For an upcoming biography I found a primary source that misidentified an important person, which led to almost all subsequent books on the topic also misidentifying the person since they all relied on that primary source.

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  173. "Admit that some things are unknowable." A good reminder of what is often so hard to do. Thank you for your post!

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  174. Thank you for this insightful post. I appreciate very much the idea of "digging into the archives," approaching one's passion or interest in a particular subject with an eye towards unearthing something vital and important, something buried in history. This resonates strongly for me: writing and research as a form of excavation.

    Celia Viramontes

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  175. As a lover of nonfiction as well as a mother of a child who loves nonfiction, I love that you made the point that we owe it to kids to tell the truth. Knowing that so often the real story was glossed over to make our heros more palatable has lead to many discussions on point of view with my 10 year old reader.

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  176. Authenticity, accuracy, consistency...musts for any book we put in the hands of a child. Love the post, ladies!

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  177. So informative and interesting. I had to learn the hard way that if you make up a story then your ms is informational fiction not nonfiction.

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  178. These is great information both for myself and my students. Critical literacy is truly critical in this age of excessive information.

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  179. Very informative! Thanks so much! :)

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  180. I so agree that non-fiction needs to be true, 100%. I still remember reading what I thought was a picture book bio only to discover it was fictional story using real people.It didn't complain to be NF but the cover was misleading and it wasn't until the end that I discovered it was partly made up.

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  181. I agree that telling children the truth is critical. But there are times I still wrestle with this in terms of choosing topics. Does the need to find multiple sources to back up all facts act as a barricade to writers sharing the stories of people whose lives were not well-documented in history (particularly women and minorities)? Does it lead to the same lives being featured over and over rather than illuminating those who we more recently have come to understand played an important historical role? What's the best way to share "true stories" about the people whose lives weren't considered important enough to document in their own time?

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  182. Thanks Karen and Candace! clickingkeys@yahoo.com Ellie Langford

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  183. Yes! Yes! Yes!! I've had many disagreements with other writers over this topic. NonFiction Fest is off to a bang! Thank you!

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  184. I couldn't agree with you more about how to define NF. But it seems like some editors and/or marketing people are confused by what NF is, and just as importantly, what it isn't. I feel that those of us who insist on writing without made-up dialogue or imagined scenes are at a disadvantage when publishers (and even some reviewers) talk about how vivid a "biography" is when it isn't all true. I wish someone would write an opinion piece on this for a prominent industry publication.
    Katherine House

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  185. Thanks for the definition of nonfiction and the operating principles! A fabulous way to start NF Fest!

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  186. Yes, truth matters. Thank you!

    Sara Petersohn

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  187. Finally, the question answered! Thank you both for tackling this tough issue and bringing some clarity to the world of nonfiction ��

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  188. The reminder to dig for credible sources and verify the facts. Thanks!

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  189. Admire and trust both of these authors and their work!

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  190. Ah...this is what makes writing great NF a challenge: being absolutely certain of your story's veracity, while crafting a gorgeous tale. Looking forward to learning how to accomplish this!

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  191. As a scientist and popular science writer, I found the reminder to dig down to the footnotes and track down the original references very important. All too often, a published error takes on a life of its own and is repeatedly cited and re-cited, turning falsehood into fact. Always, always dig down to the original source. Can't over-emphasize this.

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  192. Thank you for a perfect beginning. Non fiction is still non fiction. Yay!

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  193. You can't get any clearer than this: "If we make up even a teensy bit we must call our work 'fiction.'" Thank you for an excellent, detailed post!

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  194. Jeanette Koscheski DON'T MAKE ANYTHING UP!

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