The Amazing Truth About Fiction

Samuel Clemens used the pseudonym Mark Twain to write his famous discourses on the human condition.
Samuel Clemens used the pseudonym Mark Twain to write his famous discourses on the human condition. | Source

The art of storytelling is as old as life itself. It exists to pass along life truths to new generations, as does all writing. Fiction uses imaginary characters to convey those truths, which are important lessons from which the human mind learns.

The Bible uses parables very effectively for the same purpose.

Even works of fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tales speak truths in their fictional cloaks. Where there are characters, imaginary or real, and themes and causes, there are truths sought after or expressed.

To assume that fictional storytelling is nothing more than layered lies does this art-form a great disservice. For, in fact, fiction is one of the most powerful truth-tellers available to man.

It is fiction that many times relates and exposes the lies of reality. Charles Dickens' fiction exposed early child labor abuse. Infidelity, a fact of life, is a subject and story device dear to the heart of every fiction writer, and the hypocritical world of sports, which is a microcosm of life itself, has been spoken to in numerous tales of sports fiction .

It is actually creative non-fiction, a genre purported to be based in truth, and the creative license it adopts, that indulges in bald-faced lies.

Life truths are not lies. Fiction is filled with life truths on being human, or animal. Its varieties and vehicles used to accomplish this are endless.

A Description for Fiction

What is the basic definition of fiction? The Random House Dictionary says fiction is: the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narrative.

Any fictional genre from romance to mystery may express itself through literary imagination and describe a real-life-like human situation recognizable as truth by any life-experienced reader.

Fiction Is A Truth in Itself

Fiction isn't a lie: it's a made-up story using believable characters to bring a message of truth. It is many-faceted, using different approaches to convey many of life's truths.

In Volume Three of the series Famous Writers Course Fiction Writing from 1960, First Edition, published by Famous Writers School Inc. of Westport, Connecticut, a discussion of writing Themes states the real purpose of fiction.

"Many writers," the instructional book on fiction relates, "build their stories around Themes -- that is, around general truths about life or human nature".

Theme involves a philosophy or moral ground the writer wishes to convey, and fiction is his platform of truth, as well as entertainment. Fictional themes repeat the truths of human existence again and again, romantically, mysteriously, musically, even fantastically.

Exploring Fictional Genres

The Lord of the Rings is a great fantastical trip -- to truth. Its characters seek truth and justice just as a 21st Century person wishes to do, but its world is embedded in fantasy. Even so, the truth still speaks.

Works of creative imaginative narration are the stuff of fiction in many genres.
Works of creative imaginative narration are the stuff of fiction in many genres. | Source

Horror novelist Stephen King produced his fictional work Needful Things in 1991. It is a ficticious romp through the pitfalls of being human instigated by the Devil himself, portrayed cleverly from the character of Leland Gaunt, disguised as a new shopkeeper in town.

Gaunt invites townspeople to discover life-long sought items in his shop, and the acquisition of such items arouses a need in everyone to attain more than they have, which leads to an attempt to fulfill dreams by climbing on the backs of others. The story is built on a theme of real human weakness that is a true formula for disaster.

A Little Creative License

Produced in 1997, the musical entitled 1776 uses a different storytelling approach with film as well as in the theatre, to tell the true story of America's writing and signing of one of its greatest historical documents, the Declaration of Independence.

Colonists and politicians of the 1770s didn't sing their way through the drafting and completion of the document. A little creative license is at work. The singing itself is the bald-faced lie.

Do the expressions of Lady and her boyfriend, Tramp, convey a lie or the truth about the blossoming of love?
Do the expressions of Lady and her boyfriend, Tramp, convey a lie or the truth about the blossoming of love? | Source

Lessons From Our Canines

A Dog's Purpose is fiction purposefully told from a dog's viewpoint. It is full of imaginary characters and imaginative canine narration, and yet its undeniable factual theme speaks of truth after truth about the relationships of humans, the elements of being human, and the reasons that the canine is man's best friend despite man's frailties.

Jack London's The Call of the Wild successfully used animal-human relationships in fictional settings, as well, to teach real life lessons on that theme.

Creative License in Creative Non-Fiction

An example better than 1776 of the genre of creative non-fiction using creative license to the hilt in a film based on a true story is Seabiscuit: An American Legend, adapted from the book by the same name so beautifully and factually written by Laura Hillenbrand.

To heighten the drama of Seabiscuit's connections hoping their star can get the best of 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a match race, War Admiral is referred to as a monster of 18 hands high. A horse is measured in height by the number of wideths of a man's hand to the horse's withers. Seabiscuit was less than 15.3 hands high.

In truth, War Admiral was 15.2 hands high, never higher. Creative license was used at its best in the telling of a bald-faced lie for the sake of drama.

In the original film The Story of Seabiscuit starring Shirley Temple and Barry Fitzgerald that explored the real life Thoroughbred hero of the racetrack, creative license ran rampant. Facts surrounding Seabiscuit were mostly related through bald-faced lies in this small-minded account of his real-life legendary rise to racing immortality.

Two little horses, Seabiscuit and War Admiral, do big battle at Pimlico in what 1938 followers called The Match Race of the Century.
Two little horses, Seabiscuit and War Admiral, do big battle at Pimlico in what 1938 followers called The Match Race of the Century. | Source

Racism in America

Hannibal, Missouri's Mark Twain, the fictional pseudonym preferred by writer Samuel Clemens, shed light on one of the most controversial themes America has ever endured, racism.

Twain's masterfully written fiction yarns The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn touched the nerves of readers and created revolt and reform, all because they spoke the truth.

Englishman Charles Dickens' works did the same with child abuse and child labor themes. The list of Dickens' fictional characters whom he used to speak of these truths is miles long. His work exposed true societal ills.

Twain and Dickens were two of many 19th Century authors who used fiction to get to the truth and to foster positive changes in society and human relations.

Suspension of Disbelief

No discussion of fiction and truth is complete without an explanation of the term "suspension of disbelief", for a main element of fiction writing is also to entertain while truths are told. Establishing a "suspension of disbelief" is essential to achieving entertainment, and that entertainment leads to the telling of truths.

Charles Dickens was one of the most popular fiction writers in the 1800s. His "Little Nell" character was real to many readers.
Charles Dickens was one of the most popular fiction writers in the 1800s. His "Little Nell" character was real to many readers. | Source

A "suspension of disbelief" is just what it says: the reader suspends his reality, his disbelief, to let the story absorb into his senses. He is taken away and is compelleld to keep turning pages to learn more.

A student of fiction writing is strongly advised to grasp the concept of "suspension of disbelief" if he expects to be successful writing fictional material. Can the writer tell his story convincingly enough that a reader will give in to becoming so absorbed in the story that he "feels" the story, experiences the pages, sits next to the protagonist and believes his peril or triumph?

If the answer to that elongated question is "yes", then the writer has succeeded in telling his story not only in an entertaining manner, but also as one who is believed because the truth can be absorbed between his lines.

One of the finest examples of "suspension of disbelief" in fiction writing is Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop, which was serialized in Dickens' native England and sent by ship to New York City in installments. Before the final installment could be unloaded at the NYC docks, people yelled up to the ship's sailors, inquiring if (Dickens' character) Little Nell lived or died. Little Nell wasn't real, but Dickens' fans had engaged mightily in "suspension of disbelief" to read her story of poverty, and she had told a truth with which they were familiar. From Dickens' followers, news of Little Nell's death brought rioting on the docks in New York City.

Jack London was a master writer of human and animal relationships in the most hostile of climates.
Jack London was a master writer of human and animal relationships in the most hostile of climates. | Source
Fiction is one of the most powerful tools man has available to express life truths.
Fiction is one of the most powerful tools man has available to express life truths. | Source

Life Truths Stay the Same and Move Forward

Life truths in the fictional works of Dickens and Twain still ring out today. Their books continue to be absorbed the world over. Although Twain is more simple in his use of words, Dickens continuously overturns new wordage that stretches the vocabulary. Nonetheless, reading Dickens with a dictionary nearby doesn't lighten the power of his truthful exposures.

In 1992's Flash Fiction 72 Very Short Stories, a two-page entry by David Foster Wallace begins: "She says I do not care if you believe me or not, it is the truth, go on and believe what you want to. So it is for sure that she is lying..."

Many humans have experienced this truthful dilemma of life and quickly relate to Wallace's story of a relationship fraught with who believes whom and truth versus lying. Wallace's story is fictional truth.

After all, people read fiction to gain temporary escape from their own realities, yet they hang onto the fictional words of truth and seek the truthful messages found there to assuage their own dilemmas and unsatisfactory lives.

The reader soars, descends, laughs, cries with the protagonist who stumbles toward life refinement and the truth.

From Twain to Truth

In the first chapter of Huckleberry Finn, the curious reader hears from Twain himself through Finn like this: "You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth" (from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, by John Bartlett, Fourteenth Edition, 1968; First Edition published 1855).

This is the author using the main character of Finn to relate to the reader that the author has told the truth in Tom Sawyer. Fictional truth doesn't get much deeper than that!


For More on Fictional Truths:

For an opposite viewpoint on the value of fiction as truth, search PDXKaraokeGuy's "What Is Creative Non-Fiction?"

Also, search "Words Are Weapons" by Cruelkindness and Suzzycue to consider the life affects of truth in fiction.

For a terrific look at fictional life truths search WillStarr's profile and find "The Promise -- A Short Story".

More by this Author


Comments 34 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Excellent! I love good fiction, and I have a library full of it!


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@WillStarr...Hey, fiction partner, thanks for stopping here and your complimentary remark!

I just had to spout a bit about fiction after discovering some writers/readers view it only from its fictional side. Fiction is so much more than storytelling!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

How well I know!


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@Karmallama...Thanks for commenting.

Fiction for me is the most pleasurable writing in which to participate, but I love my work here at Hubpages, as well. It's so easy to communicate with other writers in a positive way; so good luck with your ficticious endeavors!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

90% of my HubPages work is fiction.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@WillStarr...Hey, thanks for keeping in touch as I was having a little browser issue. I lost touch for a few minutes.

When did you start writing fiction? You're very talented at it. I'd like to link from this Hub to one of your fiction Hubs, but I'm having linking trouble, so I'll mention one at the bottom of this Hub as fiction reference material.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

I started writing about three years ago.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@WillStarr...Really!!!? You've been writing only three years??

I figured you for a lifer at the art of fiction; you do it so well!!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 4 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi :)

A very interesting article!

I tend to read a lot of non-fiction these days, so don't get the chance for much fiction. (The last novel I read was 'The Son Who Paid Attention', by fellow hubber, B. Leekley.)

I agree, though, that fiction is a very good medium for revealing truths ~ just look at 'Animal Farm'.

On the other hand, I become very irritated by fiction which falsifies fact. I am a historian and it really annoys me, when, for example, a historical novel changes the truth entirely ~ and, basically, makes up lies.

But a well-written historical novel can bring the past to life as nothing else can.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

It takes great effort to write really good fiction. The research alone takes time. Love your examples of fiction posted in your hub.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Awesome and up. Fictional truth can be the deepest of all truths, as it is written as a truth to start with.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@Trish_M...Thank you very much for commenting from an historian's perspective.

I share your stated annoyance when Creative License is taken with historical fact within Creative Non-Fiction, per the examples I pointed out in this Hub.

My favorite historical novel is GWTW. MM's grasp of the whole Civil War and its perspectives North and South is mind-boggling. It's a shame she couldn't write more.

Do you find fault with GWTW as historical fiction? I wonder, would you share an example of historical fiction gone wrong that particularly annoys you?


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@teaches12345...Happy to see a teacher following through on all this debate from Hub to Hub about Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction.

I appreciate you positivity! For me, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens will always be fictitious fellows to live up to in writing!


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@aviannovice...Thanks for commenting!

Your thoughts are right on target for this Hub; at least, they are on MY target!!


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@Karmallama...I've had so much adrenaline going with the debate from Hub to Hub on these fictitious matters that I misspelled my own word -- fictitious -- in my response to you!

Sorry, Karm. Happy fictitiousness!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 4 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi :)

I'm afraid that I have never read 'Gone with the Wind'. I did go to see the film, but I wasn't too keen. Sorry :)

I'm trying to think of a book, off the top of my head, and all that will come to me is a novel I read about Catherine the Great, many years ago, and 'The Da Vinci Code', where Brown played fast and loose with his 'facts'.

I was put off watching 'The Tudors', because I read that they had changed the truth, in order to make it more entertaining.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@Trish_M...Thanks for continuing our conversation! What is your particular historical subject?

As with many films, they are not to be compared to the novel, especially a work as long as GWTW. The film was basically created by pulling vast pieces of dialogue from the book and using them to guide the movie's storyline as a way to cover the 1,000 plus pages of the novel in the smaller timeframe of a film. (For me, the film was great, too, just less involved in its pinpointing of a time gone by. The actors were terrific, I thought, bringing the period to life.) Of course, movies most of the time exist first for entertainment purposes, so things get factually changed to that end, for good or bad, which is what brought us to this discourse. But then there are efforts like "Schindler's List" that exist to inform, firstly, to make the public aware of a terrible grievance.

Treat yourself to MM's GWTW; it's never too late. It's the fictitious giant of literature, an unbelievably detailed work, with a large splash of I Am Woman Hear Me Roar! that took MM 10 years to perfect.

Catherine the Great is a splendid story from real-life drama. "The Da Vinci Code" was too religiously deep for me!

I thought perhaps you had a book in mind that you were tempted to rip apart because it was so annoyingly fact-twisted! Ha!

I appreciate you sharing your thoughts! Nothing better than that!

Well, maybe better yet: it sounds like you could do a Hub on this subject from the perspective of an historian.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 4 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi again :)

I am interested in many things historical. My degree was in Medieval and Modern history (not too modern!)

I love family history; have taught local history; am very interested in archaeology and am fascinated by ancient history and prehistory; also Biblical history (I'm agnostic). I suppose that I want to know about origins.

Since I really want to know 'the truth', I'd rather a book (or film) were a bit 'slow', provided it were historically correct ~ but I may be in the minority :)

I already have long lists of books I want to read. I keep adding to it. I'll put GWTW on there :)


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@Trish_M...It was really nice discussing this with you. I enjoy that immensely, writer to writer, no matter the exact subject matter, because it's about my only way to have discourse with fellow wordsmiths.

I hope you get to GWTW sometime and enjoy it for the historical background and its great, driving force -- Scarlett O'Hara. Novel won the Pulitzer Prize -- Best-selling book of all time/Film won 10 Academy Awards!!! My world -- Ha! :)

After reading your profile page, I better understood your prospective. You are definitely history first.

I've always fallen for the creative environment in writing, since Mom handed me my first pencil and paper, and I scratched out my first story! The ability to make a story from putting words together instantly spoke to my inner creative monster!!

Took a look at your Hub on "Titantic" -- titantically awesome!!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 4 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi again,

I can definitely tell that writing is a serious matter for you. That makes it interesting for others to read.

Thanks for commenting on 'Titanic' and for those kind words! Yes, the truth will be fictionalised, in order to entertain.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@Trish_M...Back again -- great! :) Thanks for your observant opening remark.

Writing is my greatest joy and my best consolation. It has been so since I began my first story.

I believe truth feeds fiction, and fiction awakens truth. Although they can purposefully be separated in a given project, most of the time they reside together. In the entertainment business, the blend has to be worthy with a purpose.

Your "Titantic" Hub is tremendous! It displays a great amount of work. Wikipedia/Wikimedia is a great photo stock site, too, which you used to your Hub's advantage. Good stuff!!


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

Well written. this appealed to me and I enjoyed reading it. You had some wonderful examples and your images were evocative, too. Voted up.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@BlossomSB...Thanks for joining in and the vote of confidence!

I hope there are plenty of readers and writers out there that view fiction as I do, a genre that can convey as much about life-truths as any non-fiction work.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@Freeandlaughing...Thank you for your comments and support of the genres with the fiction moniker!!

"Suspension of disbelief" is, and was, part and parcel of learning the craft of fiction and creative writing when I went to school! I'm surprised all the time by persons who aren't familiar with the concept.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

Great work, barb. here's the link to mine: http://hubpages.com/literature/What-is-non-fiction...

I like this a lot and will link mine to it as well. i like that we both references King and Dickens. Well done and god opposite to my own!


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

This is just an excellent article and I couldn't agree more!!


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@PDXKaraokeGuy...Thanks so much! Yes, I think readers get a good reference for both sides of the picture if they engage in our two Hubs! I think yours is well done, as well! And I like very much that we could civilly discuss opposite viewpoints.

I liked using King and Dickens because they are modern and old, respectively, in the fiction arena. Their huge popularity in each of their times made them a natural reference for both of us.

Good luck in other projects!


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@AudreyHowitt...You're very kind! Thank you for the positivity for this Hub!

PDXKaraokeGuy and I have had quite a back-and-forth discussion generated by our opposite opinions on this subject, and neither of us, although we respect the other person's viewpoint, are going to change our minds any time soon!!


Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 4 years ago from South Carolina

Excellent hub about the universal truths that great fiction contains. I loved the way you wove in examples from some of the best fiction writers of the past and present.

I was at the 2012 Savannah Book Festival a few months ago and Pat Conroy talked about his novel, The Great Santini, which was based on Conroy's own childhood experiences growing up in a military family. Pat's own father, Donald Conroy, was the inspiration for the tough, emotionally distant and abusive "Bull" Meecham character.

Ironically, Pat said that his first writing of the novel was rejected because the father figure was so cold and inhumane, that no reader would believe that a real father could be that way. Conroy said his editor made him delete some scenes that were actually based on truth and replace them with a completely fictional scene that would show the "tender" side of Bull Meecham!

Thanks for this thought-provoking essay about fiction.

Voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful and interesting.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@Happyboomernurse...Thank you so much for your input and positive thoughts on this Hub!

That is an amazing story on Conroy's book. I'm shocked that an editor in the 21st Century would have such an opinion of a fiction book and asked for changes of that nature. There are many fiction stories based on true incidents that rival the cold, inhumane character Conroy used, and which reveal life-truths. Astounding!

I'm so pleased you read this Hub and had that example to share!


Freeandlaughing profile image

Freeandlaughing 4 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

Hi Barbsbitsnpieces, I haven't posted many comments on HubPages; in fact, the first ever was my comment to this Hub of yours. You have responded to my comment, but it is not showing. Apparently it has not been approved. Could you please help me to figure out why. Thanks. :-)


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@Freeandlaughing...I'm glad we caught up to each other!

Sometimes comments don't appear until the Hub author clicks the "approve" button from his own page of notifications that tell him he has received a Hub comment, and not everyone checks his notification page every day.

((I'm not certain what happened to your first try -- but it does appear here now (above). Something that happens more often than you would think is that a commenter simply doesn't press the "Post Comment" button after writing the comment he intends to post. I've done that several times and ended up wondering where my "stuff" went!))

Anyway, I hope you hang in there and enjoy Hubpages. It's a great site to write on and to get feedback from other writers!

And thanks for reading this Hub!!


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 3 years ago from The High Seas

Very interesting read, well done.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 3 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA Author

@GetitScene...Thanks for stopping and reading this Hub, and the complimentary review! Glad to have you!

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