Well, the lines do blur. I disagree with some of your conclusions. If you made a "nonfiction collage," i.e., if you really took excerpts from a variety of first-person accounts, you would not have a fiction. You, the compiler, are not an "eleventh person." You are doing what I presume all historians do, looking over all the evidence available (verified first-person accounts would be especially valuable, I imagine) and attempting to reconstruct what happened.
However, if you invent some of these first-person accounts (as Saunders does), you most certainly have fiction. It is not the multiple points of view that make it a fiction. It is the fact that the author created some of them, in the same way that any author creates fiction.
Lincoln in the Bardo might be, bear with me now, more akin to War and Peace. Everyone know that Pierre and Natasha and Andrei are fictional creations. Yet, Tolstoy mixes in scores of real people and tells of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in highly historically accurate detail. The Battle of Borodino is especially vividly described. Tolstoy not only read all historical accounts, he collected letters, journals, etc. to be as accurate as possible. But no one ever questions that it is a novel.
I think "nonfiction" exists in a grey space between scholarly history and fiction. I have not read In Cold Blood, but I can say that The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe or What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer are excellent, highly readable examples of nonfiction. They are generally historically accurate, but they play fast and loose with the interior lives of the historical figures that they are portraying. They can not be taken seriously as scholarly history, but they are certainly not novels.
: I want to think about this some more.
: Say I invite ten people to a party and then
: ask them to write a description of the
: Now say I take an excerpt from each
: description to write an eleventh
: Now I have a fiction because the eleventh
: person doesn't exist.
: But it does seem problematic if I give
: citations for those excerpts.
: With or without citations, I have a
: description from ten points of view.
: But much fiction by a single author is
: written from multiple points of view.
: And fictions have been written by multiple
: authors. Shakespeare worked once or twice
: with some partner. Dumas notoriously had
: some partner.
: If the ten people contradict each other, it
: calls into question the reality behind the
: What is this thing so far? I admit it
: doesn't quite seem to deserve the name of
: What if a twelfth person who wasn't at the
: party reads the description and adds a line
: or two of his own. What now?
: How close can a story stick to reality and
: still be fiction?
: Does that matter? Can it be a novel whether
: fiction or not?
: How close does In Cold Blood stick to
: Of course, the clearly fictional part makes
: up the most of Lincoln in the Bardo.
: I offer no conclusion to all this.
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