Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Definition of Fiction

it has been a view days since I have written. My life seems to stay very busy. I found it interesting article in one of the courses that is presented on the American Christian Fiction Writers. It is on the definition of fiction and the believability of what is written. I want to share it with you.


The word fiction is believed to have originated in 1375-1475 and denotes a
shaping (from the word fictus which means molded).

Fiction is currently defined as a noun that refers to a class of literature
considered to be imaginative narration. It is something that is feigned or
invented, a made-up story. An expansion on this definition is that fiction
is an allegation that a fact exists that is known not to exist.

The definition suggests that fiction is a story without basis in reality
whose purpose is to entertain or deceive (in a nice way, folks).

So, the job of a fiction writer, especially a Christian writer, is to
present the truth within a manufactured world.

No small task. But the author achieves this when all the elements of the
story work together to maintain the world he has created.

In the movie, Somewhere in Time, Christopher Reeves manages to time travel
back in history in order to carry on a romance with a woman he met only as a
child. He is cautioned that every bit of his reality must be accurate to the
time period. One out of place item would throw him back to his present
world. Everything is going great until he pulls out a penny that post dates
his time limitations. The shock pulls him from his carefully crafted world
of yesteryear back into the reality of his current world.

So it is with our fiction. Every element on the page must be true and
convincing within our created world. Characters (thoughts, motivations,
actions); setting, dialogue, plot all must keep the reader engaged in this
alternate world the author has designed on the page. An out of sync remark,
prop, action, or device can throw the reader back to his real world. These
are the points when the reader says, ?Oh, come on. Give me a break already.
This would never happen. Captain Kirk would never do that.?

Establishing believability in the story is akin to the art of salesmanship.
The salesman?s job is to convince the prospective buyer that the product he
or she offers is needed and/or will enrich their lives. The salesman will
convince the buyer that the product is within their limit to purchase. That
is, he captures the buyer?s attention, keeps the buyer?s attention, and
closes the deal. If the buyer slips back into his own reality at any point
during the pitch, the deal is lost.

Likewise, the successful writer brings the reader into a created world by
interwoven story elements that shatter a reader?s perception of reality
(perceived norm and expectations) and yet holds them within the author?s new


The romance writer often takes two unlikely people and creates an equally
unlikely scenario for them?a place and time where they meet, fall in love,
experience conflict, and transcend their differences. Yet, we believe it.
How? What draws us into the presentation of situations that in everyday life
might not seem real yet are real to the reader?

The adage goes, ?Seeing is believing.?

And so the author?s job is to paint the story?s world in a way that the
reader can visualize.

What does the alternate world look like? Are we in a city? How do we know
this? Are we in outer space? How do we know this? Are we stranded on a
desert island? How do we know and accept this? Through the use of sensory
detail, the author transfers the reader from his current position on the
couch into the world on the page.

Then he sets his characters upon the stage. The character may be a fish out
of water, a stranger within this new world, or a comfortable old shoe, one
who is familiar with the created world. (Dorothy Gale vs The Munchkins.)

The believability is not whether the character would actually do or say
these things in the reader?s world. A character is believable by the things
he or she does, says, or thinks within the world the author has created.

We know that Captain Picard is an intellectual warrior, a different type of
hero than Captain Kirk. Each character would interpret and respond to their
environment differently. Ergo, the setup is dependent upon the setting and
the character. To be believable the interaction between the elements must be
consistent within the parameters of the setup.


The use of a family feud, or rivalry, is an ageless theme in fiction. Why do
these stories appeal to us? Basic human characteristics, the flaws mingled
with the desire for the greater good, are means by which the reader can
identify with the players in the author?s world. Who has not been touched by
the prodigal?s plight? (Cry the Beloved Country). Who has not encountered a
black sheep in the family? (Legends of the Fall or A River Runs Through It).
These stories are fiction, but they seem real to us because we can identify
with the emotions and feelings experienced by the main characters.


As in our discussion of theme that leads the story, the
author?s created reality will also dictate how the elements of the story
will present on the page. Dialogue will reflect the character?s values,
education, motivation, and circumstances. A bank robber, running away from
law enforcement is not likely to stop in the middle of the getaway to
reflect on the meaning of the Universe.

However, all things are possible in the fiction world. If the author has
crafted a bank robber who is a philosopher, then that scenario might very
well be believable. The believability of an unlikely scenario is dependent
upon the marriage of the elements in the story. The successful author will
carry these through to keep the reader invested in the story.


Again, all things are possible. An ending can be happy, sad,
reflective, conclusive, or open-ended. Not all the strings have to be tied
up in neat little bows for a satisfying conclusion. The ending again will
depend upon the theme and the story?s elements.

What makes a conclusion satisfying?

Even if the villain gets away, the reader can accept the
ending as believable if the author has crafted the possibility throughout
the story. Again, the ending is not so much determined by what the reader?s
reality expects, but by the expectation of the created world.


Believability is not the same as realism. Realism is an art type. In the
world of the canvass, some artists, like the cubists, use geometric shapes
to create their painted story. Some, like the impressionists, can only be
appreciated by taking a step or two back. And some, like Rembrandt, paint
the world in raw photographic sincerity.

The fiction author has many formulas to choose from in
depicting their world. Realism is one of those venues. But in all venues,
the author must bring the reader into the world, hold the reader there, and
close the deal with a believable result.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did. I found it very informative. As always Happy Reading!

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