Fiction can be inspired by non-fiction; it is not ‘east is east and west is west and the twain shall never meet.’ For me, it comes via snatches of information such as the little bits of story bait that an anthropologist might use to illustrate his accounts. The best practices of non-fiction are the ones that give space to folk wisdom, acknowledging that the simplistically told tales of tribal origins could have some truth behind them. A splendid example is the excavations that have been done by Naga archaeologists using tribal narratives as a guide to older civilisations that inhabited the Naga areas in former periods of history. The digs found various and valuable archaeological relics. The artefacts give clarity to our obscure past, and give concrete proof of our ancestral settlements. Carbon dating of Naga archaeological findings would show that village claims have their roots in a history that can be proved.
Such information is valuable because it gives credence to village accounts that say we have inhabited our lands since biblical times. The migration accounts of the Khiamniungan tribe refer to a deluge similar to the biblical flood. There are many other people groups who mention a deluge in their origin histories. I know of a number of tribes that trace their origin back to the tower of Babel, and all the way back to Israel. Archaeological digs that come up with evidence for such claims show these are not ridiculous village tales to be pooh-poohed away.
Back to non-fiction now. Non-fictional writing always seems like a lot more work and it is. There is all the verification to be done that is a necessary part of writing a work that has credibility. Here is where editing comes in, in a big way. In the initial stages, editing is a painful event when you don’t understand its purpose. Many of us get so attached to the pieces we have written, so much so that when an editor suggests cutting up a piece, or oh the horror, deleting a section, we react almost as though the editor had recommended an abortion. But the end result of good and professional editing is always, a manuscript worthy of publication, rid of grammatical errors and errors in content, and most importantly, rescued from wishy-washiness. Its facts are double checked for accuracy, its sources cited professionally and every inverted comma accounted for. Learn to submit to rewriting and revision and editing. They are your friends. Don’t be defensive. Things that are going to come out in print have the element of permanence about them. Make sure your best version is coming out, not a mediocre version with half-truths. Editors work to bring out your best.
Some publishing houses even have in-house lawyers that go through their book manuscripts before publication. They are trained to read with a magnifying glass and pounce on statements, paragraphs, and casual mentions of government-related or law-related events that could land the author in trouble. The last thing an author wants is legal proceedings against his book by any group. Rumour has no place in non-fiction; every statement has to be affirmed, even more so if it is a controversial topic. It is infinitely hard work, but the extra mile is worth your while.
In today’s world there are people who are ready to take offence at a book based merely on hearsay. Amongst the people who are so vehemently supportive of book burnings or book bans, there is an overwhelming majority who have never read the book in question. The meticulous attention to detail is not done for their sakes, but for the sake of the author’s integrity in the face of such consequences. Because even as some sections of society grow more illiterate in their public actions, others must use their response to it as an opportunity to be more punctilious, more attentive to the sources of their facts and to the objectivity of their presentation. That is really what will come through in the long run.