After two intense days at the Masters Workshop immediately following the Tucson Festival of Books, I am just now coming down from the euphoria of mixing with a group of talented nonfiction writers and a great leader in Rigoberto Gonzales. I came away with many (MANY) tips on writing effective nonfiction. Here is one that applies to Murder in a Small Town: The Tragic Death of Stacey Burns.
BE HONEST! The point of a major discussion about the use of dialogue in writing nonfiction (in this case, true crime) was simply this. No reader will fault a writer if what he writes is an honest portrayal of his perspective. In a previous post, I talked about hindsight, especially in regard to the Saturday before Stacey Burns was murdered. On that day, no one was thinking about the shattering event which was about to take place. No one was recording conversations. No one was committing an event, no matter how small, to memory. Friends, family and acquaintances of Stacey Burns were doing what people do–going through the motions of life. The significant emotional event that would change their lives was hours away. They had no reason to expect anything out of the ordinary.
My job as a writer and chronicler of the events of that weekend and everything that has followed is to BE HONEST! If a conversation appears to be reasonable and plausible after examining the facts, then it may be included, even if it was not recorded. This is not to say that I will abandon my personal mantra about fiction and nonfiction; that is, if you make it up, it is fiction. In no case am I making anything up but I will admit to applying my perspective of the truth to everything I write.
As an aside, the Masters Workshop convinced me that dialogue, even unrecorded dialogue, may be used in nonfiction.