The balance between reality and fiction

I don’t know about you, but I have a personal policy never to set any of my stories in the real world (or at least nowhere that could be found on a map) if I can help it. Perhaps it’s my own alienation from the world at large that inspires me to do it, but I just feel that I risk alienating the reader if I start to talk about a place that they’re not familiar with and/or do not identify with in the slightest. I mean, that’s obviously also a risk with fictional settings, but at least everyone goes in with more or less the same level of familiarity (unless you flub the effort by including comparisons to real-world elements many people would not be familiar with, have one or more characters come from the real world, etc.), and it’s the writer’s job to make sure that everyone understands all that is necessary to tell the story in an effective way and hopefully immerse the reader into the universe they’ve created.

As I have said, there are some times when the author of a piece of fiction sets it in the real world, but does it in such a way that the reader does not feel left out of the loop without having to peruse an abundance of footnotes. That’s always admirable, but unless it deals with certain aspects of humanity or nature or human nature that are underaddressed even today, I much rather prefer keeping it as fictional as possible.

Are settings the only elements of fiction that can have this restriction? Of course not. If it exists in the real world and you’re willing to assume I already know about it, you can alienate me with it. Ideologies, societies, doctrines, and many other abstract elements can be lifted from the real world as well as a location, and unless handled well, that might bring narrative disaster about.

In my opinion, one of the most effective ways you can go about including something like this short of dropping an anvil would be via those wonderful inventions known as allegories. If you tell a story that has a deeper meaning to it that’s never spelled out over the course of the text, that seems like a fantastic way to get a message across without messing up the flow of the story. Like many things, this can also go wrong, and you may end up creating something that students of language and literature will be puzzling over for centuries (something I also try to avoid), but if you believe you have enough skill to get a message across subtly without making it obtuse, then it seems like the best option.

As for you, where are you willing to draw the limits between where reality ends and your stories become completely fictional? If you feel there is something you have on your mind relevant to the topic at hand that merits saying, the comment box is just down there.


About ikerrivercast

Iker Rivercast is a natural born loner with a knack for writing and programming. When he's not sleeping or otherwise putting off being productive, you'll likely find him trying something new with his written work. View all posts by ikerrivercast

3 responses to “The balance between reality and fiction

  • Kit MacConnell

    I also tend to keep my worlds entirely fictional, with little throwbacks when it comes to my sci fi. I’m a little off in my pop culture and tech culture to worry about trying to keep up while writing fiction. Not to mention, my geography is bad, and I hate researching actual modern-day places. =P

  • thecarpinator

    I tend to keep my stuff fictional, but for an entirely different reason. Being a homeschooler in a big family and living in the most boring city ever, I never exactly had a chance to explore more than a few exciting places worthy of a novel being set in them, and I don’t understand public school systems or anything, so I can’t really write about that. I like keeping it fictional, because the only places I really understand well,

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