This is part of a very brief passage in A Drive Into the Gap and I've been thinking about it a lot since I read it last week:
On some level, most novelists write fiction to create order our of chaos. When you shape a fictional story, you can tie every loose end, fit the round pegs comfortably in circular holes. In a novel the author can create a world that makes sense.
The non-fiction writer often does the opposite. He starts with the assumption that the true story he wants to tell conforms to a logical narrative. Instead he discovers that there are always motivations that are incomprehensible. That people act irrationally. That memories are imperfect. The non-fiction writer uncovers the chaos hidden beneath the orderly surface.
There was a very big part of me that desperately wanted to make A Map of My Dead Pilots fictional. I wrote parts of it that way at first, or tried to. but the truth kept beating me down and forcing its way into the narrative. At one point in the final manuscript I do tell readers how I would have rewritten one small story if it is was fiction; how I would have made it a happily ever after.
Truth is so messy. I don't think some novelists realize that. Truth is just impossible to accept sometimes. Guilfoile writes that "...there are always motivations that are incomprehensible". This is the question of why behind every pilot error aircraft accident. I'm still trying to understand some from 1929. I look at accident reports and wonder, "Why did this pilot take this chance that killed him?"
Two weeks ago a pilot crashed in Alaska and died along with three of his passengers. The final Probable Cause report is likely a year away but I know we are never going to understand why he made the final decisions that led to the crash.
Truth is so messy. In a novel I could tell you what he was thinking; what all of them were thinking. As a journalist, as an nonfiction writer, I can only tell you what happened and then lead into the chaos with me so we can both try to find answers together.