Fictional Reality

My growth as a writer included a phase of what might be termed hyper-realism. Or maybe just plain realism, depending on how you define it. Either way, during this phase, my writing was full of overly detailed description to make sure the reader saw exactly what I saw in my mind. Contrived punctuation abounded in attempt to better mimic a person’s speech. Inner monologues of a character took up pages of space that I considered crucial because if I didn’t write them, the reader wouldn’t have all the same opinions on the character as I did.

No surprise that sometimes it read more like a scientific paper than a freaking novel.

It took a while (and a few critique partners) for me to admit to myself that what I write will not always be read the way I want it to be read. Not everybody will catch clues I mistake as universal about a character’s state of mind. To me a blue dress is calming, to another it’s cold, to yet another it’s just a plain blue dress. Once I accepted this, I was able to reign in the amount of banal facts that my obsessive nature had a tough time omitting.

I still wanted my writing to reflect real life, though, regardless of my inability to have it done to my satisfaction. When I felt like life was gritty and unfair, I wrote about people who were forced to cut throats to survive. When I thought generously of thieves, I explored misunderstandings surrounding the events of a theft. When I held love in low regard, I wrote of its talent for cruelty. After all, desperate cutthroats, framed thieves, and twisted romances all exist in real life, which automatically made them fair game.

But damn, was it still limiting. I could write about anything in the world, anything at all—as long as it existed. That was the catch. I used to not be able to write any kind of fantasy. Creating a different world aside from Earth and coming up with altered laws of physics was way beyond anything I could do, because they weren’t real. In my quest for an untarnished mirror of truth, I had boxed myself into a place where nothing could exist that didn’t already exist, and where even if I wrote about it, nobody understood how I meant it, anyways. If I couldn’t accurately write about real things, how was I supposed to write about invented things?

Then it hit me. The most obvious thing about fiction: it’s fiction. Nothing exists in fiction. There is no such thing as real life in fiction. Everything, everything, is a literary construct created by an artist to tell whatever story they think is worth telling in a way they think appropriate.

Here is the single truest thing about the creation and consumption of fiction: There is no such thing as being unbiased.

I couldn’t tell you what it’s like to kill in order to survive. All I know about it is what I’ve soaked up from years of reading, listening, and watching. What I’ve read, listened, and watched was filtered through my life experiences, twenty-two blessed years of living in Toronto with a fine family and great friends. If I’ve ever met a misunderstood thief, I don’t know it, and what cruelty I see in love is likely just a fraction of what some warped relationships out there really experience. That’s not to say I don’t think I can write from these perspectives, but they will definitely be coloured by what I think is reality.

In other words, they will be coloured by my reality. The reason why I will never be able to say exactly, completely, 100% what I want to say when I write is because the thought process that led to it is unique to me. Just as I write with bias, readers read with bias and see things through their customized, one-of-a-kind filter. Now we’re all human, so assuming I have even a modicum of talent, I’ll be able to write in such a way that no matter what, readers will understand and relate to it at least objectively. But this bias is the ultimate source of both conflict and beauty in the relationship between writer and reader: I write what I want to write, you read what you want to read. My reality is not your reality, but since they’re both a reality, that exist here on Earth, no less, we’re able to work together in the giving and receiving of great art to create a new reality. A fictional one.

Once I realized that real life in fiction doesn’t exist, every single closed door was thrown open to me. Letting go of these anxieties, accepting the difficulties inherent in writing, I was finally able to relax into my role as a literal god of my fictional world. Writing fantasy isn’t beyond me anymore. I’m okay with different interpretations of my characters and I’ve come to terms with altered readings of actions and events. In return, I get the most passionate, remarkable, and profound thing that writing fiction has to offer:



10 Responses to Fictional Reality

  1. Melissa-Jane Pouliot May 7 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    This is perfect Biljana. My debut fiction novel is fiction inspired by a true family tragedy. Some readers read it as fiction, others are reading it as fact. It took me 20 years to have the courage to write about my missing cousin, but by writing fiction I was able to step away from her story and create my own. Writing fiction has given me freedom from my own personal reality.
    In your blog I especially love this: “Then it hit me. The most obvious thing about fiction: it’s fiction. Nothing exists in fiction. There is no such thing as real life in fiction. Everything, everything, is a literary construct created by an artist to tell whatever story they think is worth telling in a way they think appropriate.” Kindest Melissa-Jane Pouliot

    • Biljana May 9 2014 at 8:52 pm #

      I’m so sorry you had such hard times. I’m glad writing was able to help you find some kind of closure. Thanks for reading.

  2. Morgyn May 7 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    Lovely insight to a process that often more intuitive than thoughtful.

    Best wishes in all you do!

    • Biljana May 9 2014 at 8:54 pm #

      Glad you thought so! Intuition is definitely a big deal, but analysis helps with things you don’t have personal experience with and where your intuition might be hazy.

  3. Patrick Stahl May 8 2014 at 11:45 am #

    As long as you keep the Pyramid of Abstraction in mind, you won’t go wrong with writing prose that isn’t “hyper-realistic.” Literary writing that attempt to conjure full images in readers’ mind through description has a tendency to fail at pacing and character because it tries to be “hyper-realistic.” That’s not to say literary writing doesn’t have its place, but it sounds like you want to stay more in the speculative fiction vein, which seems to be getting tighter and allowing steeper learning curves now than it did in the past. I try to be able to bounce a dime off of my spec fic stories. To me, description without doing anything for plot, setting, or character is wasteful 90% of the time. The best spec fic stories never describe anything that isn’t important as far as those three go. But, yeah, stay free with your writing. If you want to write realistic hard sci-fi, go ahead. If you want to write space opera or fantasy brimming over with the “strange” (as in familiar vs. strange), more power to you. Just don’t feel like you need to be “hyper-realistic” if you don’t want to be.

    • Biljana May 9 2014 at 8:59 pm #

      Exactly. I particularly agree with “scrap description that does nothing for plot”, though that generally mostly applies to stories that are rooted in a world we know. There are times in high fantasy, for example, where more is necessary to make sure there’s no confusion…but even then is doesn’t do nothing; it’s still useful. Chekhov’s gun is also a really good thing to keep in mind with spec fic. Thanks for your insight!

  4. Rowenna May 8 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Great post! So true. Everything in fiction is not quite real but also more than real. It’s a creation process that involves not just the writer, but the reader, too, each bringing their bias and their reality into play.

    • Biljana May 9 2014 at 8:59 pm #

      “Not quite real but also more than real,” love it :). Thanks for reading!

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  6. Francis Jan 3 2022 at 1:27 pm #

    Loved your content Biljana <3 I completely agree with what you have written. I hope this post could reach more people as this was truly an interesting post.

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