In a previous post, I questioned to what degree a personal essay has to stay true to the actual events in question. Ultimately I concluded that some embellishment is appropriate for nonfiction works, and even helpful, but the core events must remain rooted in fact. This allows for a personal connection to the author, but can also make it difficult to write a compelling story. This is in contrast to fiction, which can use almost any compelling story to help draw the reader in and convey a message.
Because of the increased leeway when writing fiction, authors can often forge stronger connections with the reader. Circumstances can be created that are ideal for sharing a given point or capturing interest, in ways that would feel contrived or disingenuous in nonfictional writings. Because the reader is not asked to believe that the circumstances are true, unlikely stories can still be enjoyed. Candor and honesty can still be shown through the use of characters or themes, even as the plot is synthetic.
Doug Thayer uses a gripping plot in Will Wonders Never Cease in which a teenage boy is trapped in a suburban for more than a week. Though a relatively implausible story (he somehow has heat, food, water, and air sources while trapped under an avalanche), this story provides a framework for a coming-of-age introspective narrative that entertains and gives pause for reflection. In essence, the plot is used to draw the reader in and connect with characters. This is in contrast to Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon, in which he uses the plot itself (which follows the life and death of a common farmer) in an attempt to connect with his audience. Unfortunately, the characters were didactic role players in the plot, and it lacked the sense of authenticity of Thayer’s work. Regardless, in both works, the authors used the flexibility available to them through fiction to convey their message in a way they could not have with nonfiction.