The Truth in Fiction

Over at #engchat, author Jo Knowles has a fantastic guest post about what’s real in fiction. It’s very common for readers to wonder if the events/characters in a book are at all connected to real events/people in the writer’s life. People have certainly asked me that. And a lot of writers do base their fiction on real people and places. But I’d argue that more often, novels aren’t thinly veiled versions of our real lives. They’re fiction for a reason. We might take inspiration from our lives, but we also get to create new characters and new experiences. Knowles says:

“Fragments of my own truths can be found in all of my books. Feelings. Emotions. Deceits. Joys. Confusions. My wink or nod wouldn’t really mean “Yes, it did happen to me.” It would simply (but honestly) mean: “I understand what you’re going through.” But I think the asker already suspects this by asking the question in the first place.

Realistic fiction requires us to write as honestly as we can. The honesty isn’t literal. It’s deeper than that. It’s universal. I think that many teens who are drawn to realistic fiction are looking for connection. They are looking for entertainment, too, of course. But there is something comforting in recognizing something familiar, even–or maybe especially–when that familiar thing is something they’ve never talked about with anyone. Often, because they’ve been too afraid or ashamed.”

Perhaps even more so than listening to someone’s factual account of their life, fiction allows us to connect with real emotions. A biography or book of essays can do that too, but fiction allows the author the freedom to explore emotions and experiences without worry about what the facts were.

This doesn’t mean that fiction is any less valuable because it’s not as concerned with “the facts.” The emotions are still genuine, and can help expand a reader’s sense of awareness about himself and the world.

Make sure to check out the rest of Knowles’s post, and feel free to share your thoughts about what is the truth in fiction in the comments.

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