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?