Where is the line between reality and fiction?

Lately, I’m getting some feedback from people close to me and it goes something like this: can’t you make it clearer when you’re posting a piece of fiction as opposed to when you’re just writing your blog. I get partway into something you wrote and think – what the hell! Then I figure out it was fiction. Someone actually wondered the other day if our dog was OK – like maybe the flash fiction piece – Helplessness – had been based on real life events. And lately Bruce is surprisingly quiet about the laundry baskets full of clothes hanging around the place.

I admit to simply bursting out laughing at this feedback. In the first place – what the hell! – is a reaction that is pure music to a writer’s ears. Bring it on, readers. I’m lapping it up like a kitty by the cream dish. And in the second place – where is the line between fiction and reality in the blog world?

I think that’s a good question for those of us who do blogs about writing to consider. All writing is a few steps away from any reality it might have originally been based on (and don’t even get me started on the socially constructed nature of all reality in the first place) – and that includes nonfiction writing. All writing is words sifted through a particular person’s filter. I can’t write anything interesting enough for you to read that hasn’t gone through this process.

If I write a post that claims I went to Crater Lake National Park – well, you can be confident that I did in fact go to Crater Lake National Park. If I tell you about something that happened there – OK – now we’re on the slippery slope. Whatever happened – it happened to me. Everything single thing about the event – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the emotions, what was chosen to be remembered and what has been left out – all of it has been interpreted and then reinterpreted through me in a process that loops over and over on itself like a Möbius strip.

When I decide to actually write about what happened, the whole process starts looping away again in an entirely new way. Writing is a unique way of communicating. It isn’t like phoning someone up and telling them a story or sitting with your friend at Starbucks and saying, “Oh, guess what happened to me the other day?” Writing is about structuring an event – giving a coherent beginning, middle, and end. Highlighting one aspect and letting another go by the wayside – all in the pursuit of a good story.

I’m not saying a nonfiction blog isn’t true simply because I describe it as a structured story – I’m only saying – be careful how you think about truth. Everything you hear, everything you read – it’s all sifted through someone else’s lens, all told or written with a certain purpose in mind. Sometimes I’ve thought that fiction – a well-thought out story – might be the best truth around. I’ve read fiction that said far more to me about the world than any newspaper or research article ever did.

I am reminded of the words of Arthur Frank  – to tell a story is to draw others into relationship with you. Like so many other bloggers, this is what I do every time I post – invite you into relationship with me, in the hope that you will take whatever kind of story I tell you (fiction or nonfiction) and let it work some meaning into your life.

Let me know if I succeed.


Reality or fiction – are these guys for real or maybe a trio of actors on a break? Who knows where to draw the line?

8 comments on “Where is the line between reality and fiction?

  1. This is so true, Francis. It made me think of when we first moved back to Canada from two and a half years in Mexico. We had loved Mexico at first and then became more and more disillusioned and decided it really wasn’t for us and that we wanted to move back to Canada – but to BC instead of Manitoba because it was a milder climate. Ian was most vocal about our reasons for wanting to leave Mexico – we had two break-ins in our house within a year that cost us a lot of money and had been told not to buy house insurance because it was a waste of time (wrong); we had friends murdered there in a home invasion; we got tired of the “manana” attitude of hired workers; we hated being inundated with “bugs” constantly and decided we were Northerners at heart and not cut out to live in the South. Anyway, after we had settled in the Okanagan Valley of BC, a local paper ran a letter to the editor from an acquaintance of ours who had come from the same city in the Okanagan and whom we had met in Mexico. Her letter was entitled “Mexico is Safe” and she went on to describe her feelings about it and her objections to media reports that it wasn’t safe. Ok, that was her reality but it sure wasn’t ours! Ian then wrote a rebuttal letter to the editor, decribing our objections to her claim. Well, you should have read the few vitriolic letters that came back calling him every name in the book for saying Mexico wasn’t safe (and, of course, those people had just visited there for a short time and not lived there.). There was also a long letter from another “gringo” who had lived in Mexico for over 10 years and fully agreed with Ian, citing more examples.So there you are: one person’s reality is not necessarily another’s reality – and they all are describing what they found to be their reality, and theirs only. It is best to state that what one has written is true, in the sense that it is what they experienced and perceived.

    Keep up your posting – reality or fiction – we enjoy it.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Gayle and thanks for enjoying the posts! It is certainly a challenge to deal with clashing perceptions of a given situation and it can often catch one off guard to realize that others saw the very same thing we saw in such a different light. What is it that Tolstoy writes in the opening lines of Anna Karenina – happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. When things go wrong the devil is definitely in the details.


    I would have to agree that when we read someone’s writing, it is through someone else’s len, but I have never before thought of it in those words. Now, take “Bruce’s lens”….it is accurate; it is the reality. However, the choice of what “he” is seeing” through his lens might be “also sifted”. Upon choosing that particular photo, he has already “sifted”some importance or meaning into the photo. When you compare both reading someone’s writing, and, looking at someone’s photographs, the photo is a true account of reality; the writing not necessarily so. However, both are the product of someone else’s vision.

    • Here is a very interesting juxtoposition – the reality of a photo versus the possible fiction of a piece of writing – and I say fiction loosely here, in the sense that a story was purposefully constructed, rather than saying that that the story wasn’t true. As you say, the photographer does indeed construct a story through the lens of the camera, deciding very deliberately what to frame and what to leave out of a shot – what to highlight and what to leave in the shadows. And choosing a photo for display with the hope of conveying a certain message is another level of construction in and of itself. And yet – for most people a photo is reality – not the product of someone else’s vision as you so aptly have observed. We would be wise to examine all assumptions based on what you see is what you get – it is seldom the case.

  3. I have to confess, I hadn’t been reading your blog despite your many comments on mine.

    I was missing so much! You have such great insight, and I appreciate it so much – especially this:

    “When I decide to actually write about what happened, the whole process starts looping away again in an entirely new way. Writing is a unique way of communicating. It isn’t like phoning someone up and telling them a story or sitting with your friend at Starbucks and saying, “Oh, guess what happened to me the other day?” Writing is about structuring an event – giving a coherent beginning, middle, and end. Highlighting one aspect and letting another go by the wayside – all in the pursuit of a good story.”

    This is exactly what I’m trying to get at with my students, and I feel like I barely scratch the surface – probably because I’m new – but the depth to which you take these ideas is wonderful. Example: I talked to my class about how stories are selective, we choose the details we share, ie: Facebook, social media profiles, etc. But the conversation stopped there. Nobody took it any further…but I love this example. I’m going to use this in class on Monday. Thank you!!

    • I’m so glad you had some time to come and check out my blog – I am really enjoying your posts! I hear what you are saying about introducing an exciting topic for discussion and having it fail to get up in the air. I’d love to hear how my example goes over. Qualitative research in the field of counselling psychology with an emphasis on narrative methodology was my focus in graduate school and while teaching undergrad classes – so any mention of story and narrative really gets my attention.

      • one of my good mama friends is doing a Masters in School Counseling right now. My undergrad minor was Sociology, so I have some familiarity with research (beyond writing about it). I just read a short article about Nursing Research and how it should be more story-like because it is the patients, the people, who make the research happen… anyway, it intrigues me because I’ve kept a journal my whole life, I’ve narrated my whole life into pages and I have a 5 year old daughter who loves to tell stories…reading The Storytelling Animal shifted my thinking from “why are we playing this elaborate make believe game?” into “let’s play more!” I’m fascinated by how we construct story. I think the I-Search paper, if you are familiar with that at all, can parallel storytelling and narrative, because it’s not an actual research synthesis, it’s produced in parts that, put together, tell the story of how you researched in addition to what, and then from there you could write a much better research synthesis. I’m sort of baffled by how to teach college writing, because what IS college writing anyway? Big questions to wrestle with.

        • For my Masters thesis I did quite a section on self-reflexivity – this seems similar to what you call the I-Search paper – a reflection on myself as a researcher in the research process – fascinating stuff. We always kept self-reflexive research journals and I would use this material in methodology sections of my thesis and journal articles. I recall drawing heavily on nursing research as well for narrative methodology and Arthur Frank has written some really excellent articles related to narrative in health care settings. Another article I would highly recommend is Carl Rhodes on Ghostwriting – he puts forth a strong argument for the reality that the researcher is always integrally woven into the text of the finished research – in the way you retell the stories of the participants – you become part of that story. Fascinating – responding to you Chelsea, makes me realize how much I miss some of this stuff – but bits and pieces are finding their way into my fiction writing – I’m working on a character right now who is doing ethnographic narrative research on the topic of how kids in care transition from high school to what comes next in their life. The wheel just keeps on spinning . . . . I sure hope we can keep up this dialogue – it’s stimulating and really fun.

I would really love to hear what you think about this post . . .

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s