What Is Fiction and Why Do Writers Write Fiction? Help
What is Fiction
The simplest definition of fiction is this: It is literary work based on the imagination and not necessarily on fact. Although many, if not most, writers base their works of fiction on a true-life event or on true-life characters, they write original scenes and dialog and invent or change aspects of the plot, setting, and character interactions. When fiction writers base their characters on people they've met, most often, those characters are composites of several people they know or have researched. When they base their characters on historical figures, they bring them to life with imagined as well as factual words and participation in events. We could say then that fiction (which means "created" or "to form" in its Latin root) can be made up or only partially made up—fiction or semifiction. Many fiction writers enjoy fictionalizing true events because it allows them to explore those events and the people involved without worrying about lawsuits and being blamed. Sometimes, a work of fiction becomes semi-factual because of future occurrences. Writers are often "see-ers," imagining events and characters that fit societal trends.
Although one purpose for writing fiction may be to inform, for fiction to succeed at that, it must contain a good story, one with characters in whom we are invested and situations where something important is at stake, whether the author is Raymond Carver in short stories, Barbara Kingsolver in novels, or Bruce Holland Rogers in sudden or flash fiction.
Why Do Writers Write Fiction
Some writers explain they write to answer questions like, "How can a man be both right and wrong at the same time?" or "What is the consequence of a town loving its high school football team and games more than anything else about itself?" or "What is it like for a girl entering adolescence to be raised by her father after her mother has died?"
A succinct way of explaining the draw of writing fiction comes from Pulitzer Prize–winning media critic Ron Powers. He says it is "a way of creating a mythic truth from your own personal mythos. And the contract with the reader is that the reader is sharing your myth, and that's powerful because we are a storytelling species. We like stories."
Many fiction writers assert that characters present themselves to be written and tell the author their stories. Ursula Hegi explores this common feeling about fiction writers in her novel Intrusions, in which characters impose their views on the main character, who is a novelist, distracting her from life with her family.
When we write personal essays and memoir about our experience, we evoke real events and circumstances to come to insight about our lives and those of others who are close to us. When authors take on fiction projects, they imagine their way into others' lives, changing the circumstances and crafting storylines and outcomes. Fiction writers have the freedom to change all of the elements of a story to suit their storytelling needs. They can raise and explore questions that they didn't live out in their own lives.
By following invented characters as they confront and overcome obstacles, the fiction writer observes behavior and finds out what could have been true in "real" life. Many fiction writers report that by fictionalizing intense situations, they can cope in a way that truth makes prohibitive. Where a writer may not have been admitted to law school and thus not have earned the ability to sway a courtroom and the public in civil rights issues, by inventing a character who is a lawyer and can do that, the writer delivers the thinking she yearns to contribute. If growing up abused limited a writer's ability to be intimate with others, invented characters can learn how to do this. But as in all writing, even as writers know what they'd like to see happen, the characters' lives and situations begin to dictate new events and thoughts.
In his book Ron Carlson Writes a Story, fiction writer Ron Carlson says:
I write from personal experience whether I've had them or not. At first, this sounds like a joke and people laugh, but I'm not joking. Regardless of where I got the experience (or the story "idea"), I treat it personally; if it's not personal, I don't want to be involved. If it is solely intellectual, some concept or puzzle I'm tempted by (What if there were a baseball player who had killed fans with foul balls? What if Bigfoot stole my wife?), I will explore it until I find the personal element and something sparks. Having a feeling for my material means sending myself on each journey, whether I've actually been there or not…
Novelist and teacher Carol Bly believes, "Making up stories increases one's love of the universe generally: everyone knows that." For all and any of these reasons for writing fiction, the genre is so popular now among amateur writers that National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org/) each November attracts millions who work to write 50,000 words in 30 days
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