There’s no such thing as fiction

Is the unreal really real?

Millions of new books and films are produced every year and they proudly proclaim that they are about things that never happened.

I don’t believe them.

I recently had my first book published. Called “Tread Carefully on the Sea” it’s classed as fiction. That’s because I made up the events. But did I? Does any author?

I’d say no. The events are all things that could have happened. Maybe they did happen. Certainly similar ones have happened or I would never have got the ideas. The events make up the story and therefore, if the events are based on real happenings, so is the story.

But I think that what mostly drives a successful book is the characters. And these are definitely not invented. They may have names that come out of the top of the author’s head, but any writer will tell you that he/she has based their protagonists and antagonists on people they have known. The writer has to do that – or there would be no sense of reality about the heroes and villains of the book.

Think about any office where you’ve worked or any school where you were educated, even your family. There were always the good guys and bad guys.  The faces may have changed from time to time but the set of characters was constant. There was the enthusiast, the cautious, the reckless, the rule-follower, the rule-breaker, the comedian, the storyteller, the crawler, the schemer, the psychopath.

So I would contend that fiction is not fiction. It is a re-working of the real. It gives us entertainment and satisfaction because we recognise its situations and its movers and shakers. Even in sci-fi, where we are asked to step outside our known world, the people involved in the story will be doing recognisable things, saying things we would say or have heard said.

Fiction is our alternative universe but conversely it’s a place we know and have explored.

POSTS FROM HISTORICAL NOVELS GROUP ON LINKED IN

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

  • Editor/Writer at PoliticusUSA

    I cannot agree that there is no such thing as fiction. If fiction is, as the dictionary says, prose “that describes imaginary events and people,” hen fiction exists. Simply because such a person might have existed or an event might have taken place, does not mean they did (this is particularly true of speculative fiction, where no one, I think, would argue Gandalf was a real person).

    I would argue instead that realistic settings, characters, and most of all, internal consistency, make fiction believable. Certainly our characters are, if not modeled on, then at least influenced by people we have met, but they are invented characters all the same, an amalgam rather than an instance of a person who really lived.

    Even when we write about historical personages, we cannot ever know that person. We cannot interview them. Our recreations are, at best, fictional approximations, as are many of the events we surround them with in our stories. The best we can say at day’s end is that “this might be who he or she was,” and “this might be what happened.”

  • David K. Bryant

    David K. Bryant

    Independent author of fiction

    Good argument, Hrafnkell

  • Ronald Lasko

    Independent Writing and Editing Professional

    I agree with Hrafnkell also.

    Best, Ron Lasko, author of A TALE OF TWO RIVERS

  • Ronnie Bray

    Ronnie

    Ronnie Bray

    Published Author – Historian Ecclesiastical & Social – Theologian – Humourist – Mormon to the bone! – Apologist

    Since all we experience as a human being is psychically received, ie, through the senses where it is ecphoriated in the brain,

    So, for example, we do not ‘see’ with our eyes in an external fashion as if we were looking out of our bodies at the external world, but we ‘see’ in the occipital lobe of our brains, Everything we think we see, feel, hear, taste, and smell, etc, is received and interpreted in our psyches, so when someone sees something no one else can see what they see is as real as that which is seen by everyone else.

    I had an hallucination when I was given Fortral by injection for severe pain. The hallucination was as real as anything I have ever seen, but intellectually I knew that it was not there.

    So, who is to say what is real and what it unreal. It is always a matter of perception.

    I recommend Huxley’s “The Doors of Heaven and Hell & The Gates of Perception.”

    Just because YOU do not hear MY voices does not mean they are not real.

    The only difficulty I have encountered is that my Voices do not like my Imaginary Friends,

  • Published Author – Historian Ecclesiastical & Social – Theologian – Humourist – Mormon to the bone! – Apologist

    Sorry for the incomplete sentence, “Since all we experience as a human being is psychically received, ie, through the senses where it is ecphoriated in the brain, … “

    This ought to have read, “Since all we experience as a human being is psychically received, ie, through the senses where it is ecphoriated in the brain, it could be argued that nothing and no one in our experiences can be considered ‘real’ in the sense of our knowing that what comes onto the stage of our mind is real, actual, etc. It comes down to trust and in the main the fact that few people understand the processes by which ‘reality’ is experienced.”

    I had a patient, a young woman in the onset of schizophrenia who was extremely distressed, calling our, ‘The world is changing!’

    I could not ‘see’ what she was ‘seeing,’ but I understood what she meant. When, in one person’s mind, take van Gogh’s testimony, “I paint what I see!” as an example, things appear differently,. who is to say which of us sees ‘reality,’ and whether of us sees ‘unreality’ through the distorting lens of a disabling/enabling aberration?

    • lens of a disabling/enabling aberration?

      "Kerry Kay" Wehrle

    • “Kerry Kay”

      “Kerry Kay” Wehrle

      Published Author

      Hello all. Your not going to believe this, But I have Charles Bonnet Syndrome. I’ve had it since I was about 17 years old, At least that was my first sighting. In 1999 it started happening more often. So, is the unreal really real?”

  • Devlin Blake

    Devlin

    Devlin Blake

    Inspiring Horror Writers, Delighting Horror Readers

    Top Contributor

    Perception makes it real, to an extent. for example, one of my favorite stories is Plato’s “the Cave’ (ok, I’m a nerd.)

    Anyway, this story spins the tale of people chained to a wall for generations. All they ever see is shadows on the wall. But because they are chained, and becasue all they ever see is shadows, they think this IS life. They never question why they are chained or what makes the shadows, because this reality is all they’ve ever known. In their minds and cultures, this is life and truth.

    Hrafnkell Haraldsson

  • Hrafnkell

    Hrafnkell Haraldsson

    Editor/Writer at PoliticusUSA

    Philosophy degree here, so I hear what you’re saying. And we’ve all heard the “perception is reality” line. As far as determining our actions, I get that. We only have our perceptions, and I was always big on Kant in that regard.

    But our perception of person X is not who person X is. Let’s face it, we are different people: a son, a husband, a father, a writer, a friend, etc, to different people. We’re all of that, and different people only see certain parts of us. But inside, from MY perspective, I’m somebody else again, and I’m always that person whatever outside influences come to bear. Without talking to me, reading my words, or observing me very carefully, nobody is going to know that part of me.

    A fictional character based on me (assuming somebody is that bored) is not going to be me. I’m me, the only real, “nonfiction” me.

  • David

    David Walker

    Writer at WinPublish.com

    A better argument would be is there any non-fiction? God would be the only judge I’d trust on that one. Then there’s the old reliable “There’s lies and then there’s damned lies.” As far as perception goes, I want the surgeon with the most perceptive view of reality when I go under the knife.

    • Jacqueline Piepenhagen

      Jacqueline

      Jacqueline Piepenhagen

      Co-Owner at The Book Binder Press

      It may be fiction to some and yet not to others. The same goes for miracles. Are ghosts real or only a figment of the imagination? Who has the right to decide what is or isn’t.

David K. Bryant likes this

  • Tom Bryson

    Tom

    Tom Bryson

    WRITER: ‘TOO SMART TO DIE’, ‘SARCOPHAGUS’, ‘IN IT FOR THE MONEY’,’THE ZEPPELIN OF KINVER EDGE’

    Hi David,
    Interesting discussion you’ve got going on your website/blog. Hrafnkell’s view is rational and is, I think, how many fiction writers see their world. Ronnie’s is a very different concept and one that intrigues. I’m developing a core storyline for my latest crime novel, but with a related sub-plot that has my cop character DCI Matt Proctor’s rational mind fighting to cope with ‘out-of-world’ experiences he cannot explain. Can anyone suggest a good research resource?
    Here’s another question – how ‘real’ is ‘virtual reality’? I tackled this in my crime novel ‘Too Smart to Die’. I believe this kind of ‘reality’ is linked to some tragic outcomes of social media ‘grooming’.

    • David K. Bryant likes this

    • Dave Edlund

      Dave

      Dave Edlund

      Founder & CEO, Element One, LLC

      Although you provide interesting insight into the creation of fiction (quite accurate too, if my experience is any indication), I must take issue with your generous definition of key phrases. For example, “based on real happenings” does not equate to “true events”. For example, a tornado decimates a major US city is a real event. So, for a fiction writer to imagine a tornado destroying the Arch in St. Louis would be based on factual events, but a complete fabrication.

      Similarly for characters. With so many billion people in the world, plus many more from history, I’d wager it’s impossible to imagine a completely new, unique, human character. But that doesn’t mean that the actions taken by characters in fiction are real, in many cases they are not.

      Perhaps I’m totally missing the point of your blog, because as I write this I’m left wondering how you could possibly have intended the meaning I’ve taken from it.

    • David K. Bryant

      David K. Bryant

      Independent author of fiction

      I’ve responded to Tom Bryson on my blog, where he left the same comments. To Dave Edlund, I say: The tornado may be fabrication but if there had never been any tornadoes a writer would not be able to write about them (unless he/she was creative enough to do so in a sci-fi tale). Therefore, any author including a tornado in their text will research the facts about actual tornadoes and reflect what happened in those, perhaps even describing roofs being blown off in the way that was reported in the media.
      As for real characters, when I include in a text someone whose nature is that of a person I’ve known, I draw on all that person’s characteristics, perhaps even their description, because I want my protagonist to sound real. (Albeit, I don’t do that with all characters.)
      Regarding your interpretation, I just wanted to see what people thought. I’ve achieved that through this and other groups. All the views have been most interesting and I’m grateful to you, Dave, and everyone else for taking part.

      POSTS FROM INDIE BOOK COLLECTIVE

      • Allan McLeod

        Allan

        Allan McLeod

        Novelist at Self

        Or you could visit my web: fictionisreal.com 🙂

        Raymond Walker, Katia D. like this

      • Katia De Juan Bayona

        Katia

        Katia De Juan Bayona

        Spanish Translator

        Or we can see both. ^_^

        David K. Bryant likes this

      • Ellynore Smith

        Ellynore

        Ellynore Smith

        free lance writer at home

        I always like a good sea story. Good luck David.

        David K. Bryant likes this

      • David K. Bryant

        David K. Bryant

        Independent author of fiction

        Top Contributor

        Thanks, Ellynore.

      • Raymond Walker

        Raymond

        Raymond Walker

        writer @ www.raymondwalker.co.uk

        I am pretty sure that it was Picasso that said, “All you can imagine is real” though I must say that some of my imaginings at times are rather improbable. None the less, I do hope that they make for good reading.

4 thoughts on “There’s no such thing as fiction”

  1. I’m a firm believer in the concept of ‘the truth is stranger than than fiction’ – and my favourite genre to write or read is fantasy. We all create our own realities intellectually and emotionally – and these can change at any given moment, or stay firmly fixed depending on how much you need stability. Anything outside of that is out of our control and anyway made up of other people’s perceptions. I believe anything can and does happen – fiction is just another way of embroidering it so in that sense authentic, plausible fiction IS real, at least until you turn the final page.

  2. Tom, on your first question, what about paranoid schizophrenia, as illustrated by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.
    On your second, I wonder how long it’ll be until virtual reality takes over the film world. Why would there be a need for actors when computer generation reaches the stage of being able to exactly replicate human beings?

  3. Hi David,
    Interesting discussion you’ve got going here. Hrafnkell’s view is rational and is, I think, how many fiction writers see their world. Ronnie’s is a very different concept and one that intrigues. I’m developing a core storyline for my latest crime novel, but with a related sub-plot that has my cop character DCI Matt Proctor’s rational mind fighting to cope with ‘out-of-world’ experiences he cannot explain. Can anyone suggest a good research resource?
    Here’s another question – how ‘real’ is ‘virtual reality’? I tackled this in my crime novel ‘Too Smart to Die’. I believe this kind of ‘reality’ is linked to some tragic outcomes of social media ‘grooming’.

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