Join 3,564 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Because all opinions are equally true—except mine is inspired by God.
December 4, 2011 3:55 PM   Subscribe

What are the "rules" for "God told me...," "The voice of god," and other hard to believe personal experiences in creative non-fiction writing?

How far can a writer go stating their personal experiences as fact? Moreover, how can readers and critics determine which writers are being honest and which ones are straight out lying?

Also, if someone takes psychedelics and has a conversation with god, can they still market their literature as non-fiction if they do not mention that they were high?
posted by Knigel to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
As a rule, nonfiction that discusses personal experiences with religion (or basically anything else that isn't based on a verifiable objective fact) are treated as "straight;" it's up to the reader (critic, publisher, me-with-a-book) how seriously they want to take that.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:18 PM on December 4, 2011


You state your personal experience as a fact by stating it as your personal experience. "As the car plowed in to the telephone pole, I felt a sudden slowing of time and a bright light. I heard a voice talking to me, as clear as day..."

Although you can also get away with "God had told me that the car crash was part of the Plan." - it's from your perspective and therefore subjective, not really any problem with its being non-fiction.
posted by Lady Li at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are no rules. It's up to the reader to decide how credible the claims are. There's no reliable way for a reader to verify whether a writer is telling the truth about this kind of thing.
posted by John Cohen at 5:25 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Moreover, how can readers and critics determine which writers are being honest and which ones are straight out lying?

Giving more details helps. More disclosure of relevant details allows the reader to discern more and form a more informed opinion.

Also, if someone takes psychedelics and has a conversation with god, can they still market their literature as non-fiction if they do not mention that they were high?

You can market something in any way you want (subject to applicable laws regarding false advertising, etc.)
posted by The World Famous at 6:21 PM on December 4, 2011


How far can a writer go stating their personal experiences as fact? Moreover, how can readers and critics determine which writers are being honest and which ones are straight out lying?

Dude, no one checks this shit. At all like ever. Books get published because the publishers think they'll sell --- there's no publisher review board or something which has to read through them beforehand in order to make sure they're accurate. You can say whatever you want, in a memoir or biography or whatnot --- as long as you're talking about your personal experiences, a-ok.

It's different if you're talking about something like an encyclopedia or a book about science or history --- those usually do get fact checked. Generally someone tries to cook the recipes in a cookbook.

But you'd be surprised how little checking is done on anything in the realm of memoir or autobiography. Publishers generally rely on the idea that if an author gets caught lying they will be humiliated and won't be able to publish more books, and therefore authors won't lie. (This method has proved far from foolproof, especially in recent years -- e.g., A Child Called It, James Frey, Angel at the Fence.) You can also be sued for libel as an author if you make false claims about someone's behavior, or paint them in a false light, so long as they're identifiable. That's why authors often trouble to disguise people's names and identifying details and so forth.

Probably a lot more stuff went uncalled-out before the internet, when it was more difficult for a non-famous or well-connected witness to get someone to pay attention to their side of the story, in a case where some author lied about something they'd witnessed, etc.

But your particular example --- someone claiming God told them something --- well, the only person who'd know whether or not that happened was them. You'd have to take them at their word.
posted by Diablevert at 6:22 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


How far can a writer go stating their personal experiences as fact? Moreover, how can readers and critics determine which writers are being honest and which ones are straight out lying?

They can go as far as they want to or are prepared to. If the facts are checkable and they don't add up, it will come out (if the book becomes a big seller) or it won't (if the book doesn't sell).

With spiritual experiences, conversations with deities and the like, there is no way for the reader to check the facts. There's no hotline to deity-of-choice and no definitive process for checking. It's essentially something that happened inside someone else's head and nobody has any way of proving or disproving the experience. So as Tomorrowful says, it's up to the reader. Some readers will be inclined to seek out and believe such accounts. Others will be inclined to reject them because they aren't inclined to believe or precisely because the facts cannot be checked.

So basically, there are no rules. There are plenty of people out there selling accounts of their own spiritual/religious experiences; look at the "non-fiction" e-books section on Amazon and you'll find plenty of them. That should give you an idea of how far the genre can extend.
posted by andraste at 2:00 PM on December 5, 2011


« Older I'm a commercial artist wanna-...   |  Help! I've moved, and the litt... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.