Should it Matter that a Story is Fiction?

phyllobates's picture

 Should it matter if a story is based on real life or should we only care that the emotions and plot lines represent a cohesive reality

 I cannot remember whose presentation brought this question to light, but it is one that I have struggled with prior to this class.  To me knowing that a story is true brings significance to it, but I'm not sure that I should feel this way.  When I know that a story is real I make much more of an effort to put myself in the characters shoes.  I know that these events, emotions, and thoughts have occurred, and I feel obligated to re-experience them.  When I know that a story is pure fiction it seems less significant to me.  While the emotions and thoughts may be human, the fact that they only hypothetically occurred  does not inspire me to re-experience them.  When reading it takes me much more effort to try on the characters' emotions and I can't see a point to making this effort if it has no grounded experience.  

While this is the way that I feel, I seem to have no justification for it.  So what if it didn't actually happen!  Emotions are emotions and you can obviously get a lot out of getting different perspectives of the world.  I guess I just can convince myself that the plot could take place.  I don't believe a character would say this or do that.  I can't believe that this would be the emotion they would feel.  It seems like the author is just choosing from infinite possibilities and I don't want to be fooled by his random choice.  Maybe this all leads up to how unbelievable real life is. Do each of our own events, emotions all seem unreal when we put them in a story.  Maybe this shows how fictional each of our worlds can be.  I do need the "stamp" to certify this is a true story in order to differentiate fiction and non fictional stories in the first place.   

I've gotten lost in a whirlwind of thoughts, but  now after writing this I think I need to re-evaluate how I read fictional stories. I really wish it didn't matter to me that they were, well, fictional.

Comments

cwalker's picture

Is it that the story is real, or how you critique the story?

I had somewhat thought about it before. I have a strong love for Latin American literature, especially the type of literature that is a result of dictatorial oppressions, not exactly the lightest reading. But there is something about this type of literature that just sparks such a strong passion and respect for the hardships many of these people have faced. Although technically most of these forms of literature are fiction, they are based on real political and social situations, like A hundred years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. Although fictional I have the utmost respect for the authors and the people they represent, I admire the valiancy these individuals posses. In this case I am astounded by the actors, but I wonder if it is different when it comes to other types of literature. I think that our greater interest, respect and sympathy for literature either non-fiction or based on a true story isn't really about trying to connect more to the situation, trying to put ourselves in the character's shoes; but rather that we have a harder time critiquing it. I personally would have a hard time criticizing a literature that I know is based on real life, I mean it is some one else's life, you can't really critique their choices or the way things happen, they just happened there is nothing the authors can really change. We could critique the writing style but as readers we are more often looking at the content than the writing style, the writing style is just a bonus. Although I do think that my greater love for stories based on real life do come from being able to connect with the characters more, and my respect for individuals valiancy, but also I also think I am held back from critiquing it because it is someone else's life, and it is not my position to negate their life story.

jhercher's picture

Perhaps it's easier to put

Perhaps it's easier to put yourself in the shoes of someone that you know is real (or based on a real person).  Be honest, would "Catch Me if You Can" be half as cool if it wasnt based on a real person?
Also, on the flip side of that, think about how violent the reaction is when authors who claim to have written autobiographical pieces are revealed to be lying.  That guy who wrote "A Million Little Pieces," which Oprah promoted, and then it turned out to be only semi-true and she burned him on national television.  Or that guy who wrote "A Child Called It," and then it turned out he had stolen stories from other people who had lived in abusive households. 

phyllobates's picture

Three Cups of Tea

 Yeah I completely agree that is is easier to put yourself in the shoes of someone that is based off of a real character.  I was just reading an article about how the author of "Three Cups of Tea" is being sued for "fraud, deceit and racketeering" see link below.

http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/2011-05-06-three-cups-tea-greg-mortenson-fraud_n.htm?csp=34news

I completely understand why people are upset about this, I am upset about this, but I'm just not sure why it really matters to us so so much.  One of the new concepts that I took away from class is that really everything is fiction.  There is no way for one person to represent reality in a completely unbiased true manor.  Even in non-fiction the stories are told from a perspective and they are often enhanced or adjusted to appeal to the audience.  I think there is something fulfilling about reading a true story, it is more amazing when you know that a person has accomplished certain feats or endured difficult situations.  However,  how cool is it that you can read a work of fiction that is presented like a non-fiction and still get the same satisfaction? I am not trying to suggests that it is okay for writers deceive the public, but as the public I sort of wished that we didn't place such an emphasis on a story being real.  Maybe a new category of books could be created for stories that are fictional, but could be real...

jhercher's picture

Perhaps it's easier to put

Perhaps it's easier to put yourself in the shoes of someone that you know is real (or based on a real person).  Be honest, would "Catch Me if You Can" be half as cool if it wasnt based on a real person?

Also, on the flip side of that, think about how violent the reaction is when authors who claim to have written autobiographical pieces are revealed to be lying.  That guy who wrote "A Million Little Pieces," which Oprah promoted, and then it turned out to be only semi-true and she burned him on national television.  Or that guy who wrote "A Child Called It," and then it turned out he had stolen stories from other people who had lived in abusive households. 

Cremisi's picture

 I totally understand where

 I totally understand where you are coming from...

After you watch a movie or read a book that made you feel something really quite profound, it instantly becomes even more impressive if you see "based on a true story" printed on it. I remember feeling this way about the Japanese story of Hachiko. Hachiko was adopted by a professor who would, everyday, get off the train routinely at the same time. And everyday, Hachiko would greet him there. He continued this his entire life, until one day, the professor, due to some sort of ailment, died and never went back to the train station. Despite this, Hachiko continued waiting for nine years every day at the same time for his master. Even though he was adopted by another family, he would often escape and go to the train station precisely at the time that the professor used to come home. Hachiko continued doing this up until the last day of his life, when he collapsed--en route to the train station.  This is a very important story in Japan as it symbolizes intense loyalty and dedication--very important aspects of Japanese culture. 

 

Looking at that story, there is no doubt that knowing it is a true story makes it even more impressive. I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that when we know it is non-fiction, we suddenly accept it more as our own--it has become an active story to us that has existed in our own world and then it seems much more credible and important. In fiction, however, I have a feeling that we separate it from ourselves much more than we should--we are told to accept another reality (though, truly, this is a very hard thing to actually do) and I think that in turn, this causes us to be more laid-back and view the story as entertainment. I know that when I am reading fiction, I think , "ok, someone else has created this world, they are the ones calling the shots." I am much less likely to be critical of the work or world because what could I possibly know about this person's universe? I was just told a few minutes ago to accept an entirely new reality, i'm not about to make inferences about how every person (or creature) functions or thinks. When it is non-fiction, however, it is in my world..I know how these things work, and certain things impress me because of it.  

In a way, I think it shouldn't matter if it is fiction or non-fiction. It truly is the message you get out of it. With the story of Hachiko, we value it because, as I said earlier, it shows an impressive amount of loyalty, an intangible aspect of the story. I think the problem may actually lie with the reader him/herself. I know that for me personally, if I were perhaps more active and less passive, look for my own meaning (in addition to) in the story rather than just understanding what the author intended us to know, then maybe the difference between the two wouldn't be so stark. 

hannahgisele's picture

Non-fiction as a calming middleground

I really like what you said about accepting non-fiction as "our own." As we spoke about at some point in the Thursday seminar group, science functions within the limits of our own discovery. While new creations and experiments are being performed every day, they are still all within the realm of what has previously been created. Each new invention makes a dent in the enclosure of discovery, but the research involved in finding new techniques cannot be innovative in itself. On the other hand, fiction writing has infinite possibilities. There will always be another combination of events to depict, or new worlds to create. While there may be a finite number of story types, the content options are limitless.

Both the claustrophobia of science and the exponential options of fiction are daunting. Non-fiction seems to lie on a pleasant middle ground, in which the reader can depend on some degree of resolution. Knowing that this road has been traveled on (regardless of the hardships or obstacles) gives the reader a sense of rules. Nothing ‘otherworldly’ takes place, and so we can relate better. We are also better able to find meaning within our own lives when reading non-fiction. An inspirational story can be rooted deeper if we know that the experience was more than plausible: it actually happened. Non-fiction can incite in its readers the potential to do more, because we know it is possible. In this way, non-fiction finds a comforting middle group between the staunch limitations of science, and the terrifying sprawl of options of fiction.

 

themword's picture

When I know a story is not

When I know a story is not fiction, it's easier to feel the emotions because you are being told exactly what they are. When a story is fiction, you are given more freedom to in the emotions you personally feel, but it is harder to feel the emotions the characters are feeling, especially when they seem unrealistic. On the other hand, I always find myself saying "there's truth in fiction." The author most likely took something from his or her own life when writing the story. When the emotions of characters are hard to figure out, I believe it is because the author is trying to disguise his or her own emotions, perhaps in attempt to hide the reality of their fiction. In trying to figure out the emotions of the characters, I am trying to figure out the emotions of the author.

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