Thursday, October 17, 2013

What is fiction?

When teaching Composition 1, most of the texts we read are essays taken from an anthology.  But every semester I teach "The Lottery."  In case you're not familiar with it, I'll give you the basic plot.  A small town in New England holds a lottery every year, at the end of June.  Every family member must pick a slip of paper from a black box, one of which has a black dot on it.  The 'winning' family then returns to the box, and every member picks a slip of paper.  The 'winning' person, at the end of the story, gets stoned to death.  This is the most anthologized short story, and while dark, it is a great read and unleashes great discussions in class.  Shirley Jackson wrote it in 1948, with the recent Holocaust and her own negative small-town experiences forefront in her mind. 

Before we discuss "The Lottery," I ask the class -- what is fiction?  Invariably, the first responses include "not real," "not true," "made up," and "fantasy."  These responses really bother me!  Why?

To me, fiction is very real.  It rings true.  A character may be based on a historical ("real") person or not, but his or her ethos reflects reality.  In the best fiction, the characters are so lifelike, you feel like they could be a neighbor.  For me, I feel like I could sit down with them over a cup of tea.  While the events and the people inhabiting a novel may not be real, they are lifelike, and their lives resonate with truth.

What is fiction to you?


  1. Christina Victor- BandyopadhyayOctober 17, 2013 at 10:33 PM

    Hmm...sorry for not quite agreeing with you here, but to me fiction is an escape from reality.

    While I prefer historical fiction, so it doesn't feel like I am wasting my time over a complete fantasy, even then only the context is anywhere close to reality. The characters and the plot are a creative expression and I pick books with happy endings, which unfortunately is not always true in life!

  2. We don't disagree. Fiction can be many things. I also view it as an escape - a nice escape from current realities. I also like a happy ending, and am most frustrated by the unresolved ending, which is in favor these days.

    More thoughts anyone?

  3. The fiction I enjoy most has complex, believable and like-able characters. I want to get absorbed in their lives and problems. I recently read a book that had a great plot, but where the main character was kind of uni-dimensional and kept making a string of bad choices. I found the character so annoying, I couldn't finish the book.