Fiction and Truth; Non-Fiction and Your Imagination

“Fiction is a story someone made up.” Miss Wood tapped her desk for emphasis.

“Non-fiction is fact. You find non-fiction in an encyclopedia or in a newspaper so you know it is true.”

This is how my sixth grade teacher Miss Wood once explained the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

I’m going to pause now until you stop laughing (or crying). Nowadays the line between truth and untruth is painfully blurred. But when you are in sixth grade, you don’t feel that way.

To be fair, I should explain the context. The class was assigned to write reports about animals for science class. I’m sure Miss Wood didn’t want me using Wind in the Willows as a resource.

But now I am about the age Miss Wood was when she made this pronouncement, so I feel justified in my rebuttal.

Encyclopedias and newspapers may or may not be factual, but good fiction is true.

Non-fiction writers generally try to preserve the illusion of detached reasoning. But no fact operates in a vacuum and authors of non-fiction often get away with ignoring inconvenient aspects of their theories. They have to do this because the world is full of unexpected quirky facts which get in the way of theories.

A writer of romance novels, cannot afford to be as random as real life. In a sense, the whole point of a good story is its reassuring predictability. Because when fiction begins with fully fleshed out internally consistent characters, the paths of those characters and their interactions must be, if not predictable, at least inevitable.

The result of that inevitability is a kind of truth. Maybe the closest we get to it.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.