Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fiction or Reality?

How much of any piece of fiction is pure fiction and how much is reality-based?

I’ve often asked that question when reading the fiction of others. I might wonder what, in the author’s life, could have evoked such a pathetic (or outrageous or humorous) situation or conclusion, one that serves to fuel the story. Is this story a chance at a voyeuristic look into a writer’s life, or is it a window into the mind of a pathological liar?

About five years ago, I asked that question of my own fiction. I’ve always known, of course, that something – some event or personal interaction – must give rise to the impulse to write a story. Moreover, bits and pieces of past experiences feed into stories; these are often gathered from different times and places and pieced together in the mosaic that is fiction. I hope that every story I write tells some truth, however convoluted. But I also know that much – even most – of my fiction comes from imagination. I envision scenes and dialogues that I hope will lead the story through its maze to a real insight or understanding for the reader at the end.

So I decided to do a tally of my own fiction using a one-to-five scale: ‘5’ being “mostly reflects something that actually happened” and ‘1’ being “completely fabricated.” Only one story earned a ‘5;’ and one deserved a ‘1.’ All the rest, of twenty five short stories and two novellas, came in somewhere between ‘1.5’ and ‘4.5,’ with a collective average of ‘2.2.’ Of course, this tabulation – fictional fantasy vs. reality – reflects a scientist’s preoccupation with data gathering and analysis. But it also shows that, on average, the stories were more imagination than objective reality. What I was actually aiming for in each story was subjective reality, a personal "aha" moment on the part of the reader.

All this is background for a deconstruction of the story, “A Scientist’s Conclusion,” for the next post. I’ll look at what parts of that story were reality-based and what parts were simply made up. I’ve been intending to do this for several weeks now, but life got in the way. I promise, I won’t wait so long for the next post and the actual deconstruction.

How much of your fiction is reality-based and how much is pure imagination?


  1. While most of my fiction is made up, the characters are often elements of me, and things often appear that reflect my experience.

  2. Yes, the line between fiction and reality often becomes blurred. As in Andra's recent experiences.