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The Difference Between Fiction and Reality Is a Big One

While browsing Pinterest to bulk up my Innovative Editing pages the other day, I saw an absolutely awesome pin that went like this:

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

Attributed to world-famous novelist Tom Clancy, this quote is perfect. Like absolute, 100%, accurate-extraordinaire perfection to the point where it’s worth repeating.

"Fiction has to make sense."

You wouldn’t think that, I know, since reality is real and fiction is made up. But we can see and hear reality, breathing it in and feeling it touch us and those around us.

It’s not always enjoyable, of course. Sometimes it’s hectic and ridiculous and painful. Yet even through the most insane moments, it still manages to be natural, and we have little other rational choice but to accept it as it is.

I know that in my ever-growing interactions with reality, there have been plenty of times when I’ve met someone or experienced something that seemed too good or too strange to be true:

  • People who were complete stereotypes of their ages, genders, orientations or races to the point where they were barely even human any more. They were clichés and caricatures instead.

  • Places that were so foreign-looking they didn’t seem like they belonged on this planet.

  • Circumstances that went from bad to worse to worst so quickly that it was almost comical, or coincidences that kept piling up in my favor until I was moved to tears.

One immediate example that comes to mind is Todd, a colleague I once worked with who was the very definition of a Napoleon complex. Not much taller than me (and I’m only 5’2.5”), Todd was one of the most attention-seeking people I’ve ever had the aggravation of interacting with.

One day, he brought his guitar into work to serenade everyone even though he was barely functional on the thing. And he left it there in our cubicle-filled office room to randomly play whenever his mixed-up muse struck again.

Again, this is at work.

An absolute attention… ummm… darling… Todd would start up political conversations – no. Not conversations. Monologues – with the whole entire room, automatically expecting everyone to laud him for his SJW (social justice warrior) opinions even though most of us would be busy trying to do what we were being paid to do, which was write or edit information.

Oh yeah, and speaking of SJW stuff, Todd was a straight white male who made plenty of offensive comments about everything he wasn’t while never ceasing to pat himself on the back for being open-minded.

Honestly, I couldn’t stand Todd. But I did accept him as a fact. I didn’t question his existence, only his maturity.

If I tried depicting him in fiction, however, I’d be very concerned how well my readers accepted this ex-colleague of mine. They’d probably classify him as a flat character at best and completely trite at worst.

“Nobody is that bad,” they might think while they flipped through my story. “This is embarrassingly cheesy, and I’m never reading another Jeannette DiLouie novel again.”

I wouldn’t blame them for it either, since fiction is supposed to be believable from start to finish. And again, Todd was over the top. Between his irrational mindsets and immature behavior, he was as illogical as they get: a walking contradiction that can only play out convincingly in the real world.

Fiction’s characters, plots, settings, dialogues and themes have to make sense even if they involve made-up planets, magical elements or purple-skinned peoples with orange crests.

And just to make it even more challenging, fiction has to be constantly entertaining or interesting or evocative. In short, it has to be reality 2.0.

If you’re living it out, it can be as absurd as you please or don’t please. But if you’re writing it down on paper, then make sure your characters are fresh, your plots are structured and your settings suit your story.

It might not make sense this way, but it’s just the way reality and fiction go.



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