Fact versus Fiction

“The difference between fact and fiction is that fiction must be believable.”–Mark Twain

ImageHave you ever noticed that we suspend our beliefs for the sake of entertainment?  Don’t think so?  How much murder and mayhem do you think happens in Las Vegas?  And how often do police anywhere catch the criminal within an hour?  But we’re willing to believe it will happen week after week so that we can be entertained.  (By the way, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been on the air since 2000.  That’s a lot of Vegas crime solved in less than sixty minutes!)

ImageStill not convinced?  Do you know how long the Korean War lasted?  Three years.  Do you know how long the television series M.A.S.H. lasted?  11 years.

However, what if I told you that in 2003, twenty-four people died from inhaling popcorn fumes?  Admit it, you wouldn’t believe me.  According to “Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die” by Michael Largo, it’s true.

And it’s still not believable.

I think Mark Twain was on to something when he said the quote above.  I imagine he was struggling with the description of some bend in the Missouri River and he wanted to write it the way he really saw it.  Then he realized no one would believe that.

Believability isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, though.  That spark of wonder so often seen in a child’s eye gets lost when “truth” is discovered.  How different does a child look at snowfall?  They see a new world where an adult sees hours of shoveling.

As the seasons start to change, let’s look for a little more wonder in the world.  I’ll bet we learn things about ourselves we never would have imagined.

Oh, and grab a few works of amazing fiction while you’re at it.  (Might I suggest my fellow Second Wind authors?)  You may find that the things you see in the “real world” are more difficult to believe than the novels.


P.S.  I’d like to take a moment to thank those who either “gave some” or “gave all” on this Memorial Day. You—and your families—have my eternal gratitude.



by | May 28, 2012 · 12:32 pm

5 responses to “Fact versus Fiction

  1. This opens up a whole can of worms, doesn’t it? A book with a dragon on the cover leads to a whole different set of expectations about the “reality” depicted inside.

  2. Nichole, you make good points — being believable is not the same thing as being true. In life, coincidences often drive our lives, but such coincidences seem to contrived in fiction. And so often new writers, when told a scene isn’t believable, will wail, “but that’s the way it happened.” And if dialogue reflected real speech, with all it’s stammering and repetitions, readers would go out of their minds with boredom.

    I like your idea of looking for the wonder in the world, of seeing the snowflakes rather than the shoveling.

  3. Sherrie Hansen

    Excellent post, Nichole. I enjoyed it!

  4. Rod Marsden

    In life we don’t always know how a story begins or even how a story ends. In fiction the reader is entitled to know these things. Believe it or not there is still wonder in the world. I stand on the overhead bridge at Scarborough on the south coast of NSW and look out to sea. If I am lucky I spot a hawk or an eagle. There is wonder enough there. At Scarborough one day I came across a stick insect that sprouted wings and flew. I didn’t think they could do that. I suppose that was wonder too. There were plays written in England in the 1950s that attempted to strongly reflect real dialogue. Look Back in Anger was one of them. But, in the end, it had to be a strong reflection only.

  5. Excellent post. If TV’s to be believed, Oxford England must be one of the most dangerous places on earth, but we love to watch Lewis.

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