According to my very large unabridged version of Random House Dictionary, second edition—Fiction is the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration especially in prose form, or something feigned, invented or imagined—a made up story.
I thought about writing this blog a couple of months ago when I received a letter from a reader who had gotten a copy of one of my fairly old back-list books at a library book sale. She wrote a two page letter saying how unhappy she was because my story, set in her state, wasn’t in any town she or any of her friends had ever heard of, and she’d been a resident all her life. She claimed she’d spent hours looking at small towns on a very detailed map. She further said that surely since the people I wrote about had jobs in the town, someone who knew them would probably like to tell them they’d read about them in a very nice story. (So hey, she complimented something)
I wrote back thanking her for taking the time to write to me, and for enjoying the story. Then I said the town was fictional. I assumed this would be the end of it. But she wrote back, again disappointed. She wondered why I would put such real-sounding people, with very real careers, in a town that didn’t exist. If I wrote fiction, she said, none of the book ought to feel real.
I admit that stumped me. And I started thinking about the lengths we who write contemporary romance go to make sure the bulk of our stories are real. Our cops, military men and women, lawyers, veterinarians, nurses, doctors…and the list goes on, we interview people in those careers to keep the realistic flavor.
In the end I decided it wasn’t something I could explain any better and let it go. Then on another loop of writers I’m on, someone asked for input about injuries that might occur if someone fell off a roof. Many responses were detailed and came from people who worked in emergency rooms. But one answer had me again considering writing this blog to see what other writers thought. One person wrote, and I’ll paraphrase: Can’t we arrange an accident to suit ourselves? A person could trip on a step, hit their head and die. Another person could fall off a two-story roof and get nothing more than a limp. A character might break his or her leg in a simple way, and we could give them complications. Another might get a seemingly small scratch and die of tetanus. Isn’t that the joy of writing fiction?
So is it fiction if we aren’t writing books about unreal creatures, or building whole worlds that are populated with super-human characters? Are contemporary books set in real places in the U.S. or other countries, with people who come out of our heads, but have all of the characteristics of someone working in a real field—is that fiction?
Very early on in my career a well-known author said something that stuck with me. She said, I always set my stories twenty miles out of someplace that’s real. I don’t say it’s north, east, west or south of the real city. She said she neglected to name the highways or byways, rivers or streams. She just picked a spot where she knew the architecture, flora and fauna and wrote her book.
That’s worked for me until this very picky reader started me wondering, how much of what I do can I call fiction? Some books have disclaimers at the front that say any mistakes or embellishments are your own and not a result of any person to whom you may dedicate the book. Should all fiction books, however real, come with a disclaimer? Or did I happen to hear from the only reader in our universe who reads contemporary romance and thinks every itsy bitsy thing in the book is totally real?
I’d love to hear what others think? Or tell me I’m really reaching for something to blog about-lol