The Truth-telling Power of Fiction

Think of one of your favorite stories, a made-up story. Fictitious. Why do you like this story? Do you enjoy dreaming of a different world, or adventuring along with the characters? Perhaps you feel this story says something that you’ve wanted to say all along, and didn’t exactly know what it was.

In any case, good fiction forms a connection with you, the reader. It nudges your imagination to take up the slack and make an unreality seem real.

Or does it?

What exactly does “made-up” mean? You could say I’m making up these words as I type them. But I didn’t create the English language. I’m just borrowing words from the past. If these aren’t my own words, then this “creative” writing isn’t really original! Is this paragraph even mine at all?

I think it is, and here’s why. Creating something is an act of reshuffling what’s already in existence, in a new and unprecedented way. This blog post is my original creative work, not because I invented the words, but because I meaningfully reorganized them.

Just like my words have been used before, fiction writers use stories from reality, and twist them together in new ways. They take their material—experience, emotions, thoughtful connections—and throw it together artfully with a few sprinkles of imagination on top. Some even leave off the sprinkles. That’s creativity—building from the foundations of others.

All of fiction, every single made-up story, has some basis in reality. Otherwise, these stories would be meaningless to us. We want to hear stories about ourselves, our own experiences. Much of the time, fiction provides the freedom to tell those stories with more clarity than nonfiction ever could.

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