Is It Fiction?

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It has been an intense month of writing. My last post discussed finishing the first draft of my new novel. Today, I can report that I have finished the third draft and am about to send the manuscript to a ‘trusted reader’ who will give me some more comments and, most likely, edits before I can confidently send it off to the publisher. I find that each go-around requires me to have a different set of eyes, different ears and different skills. It’s an exercise in going from the most open and general to the most specific and finicky.

I have found that the closer I have been to this point in the process, the more I have been willing to talk about it. I suppose its completion is beginning to feel more and more real. But when I tell people I am completing a novel, I have noticed that people are having a surprising response, surprising at least to me. Of course, people ask, ‘What is it about?’

I reply, ‘It is the third novel in my trilogy of novels set in modern day Cambodia.’

Fine. But then the most often response to that is, ‘So, did you make it up or is it real?’

Huh? I don’t want to be mean about this, but I now can’t help but wonder when people stopped understanding the meaning of the word novel. (At the risk of writing like a middle school student) Webster defines novel as:

 relatively long fictional prose narrative with a more or less complex plot or pattern of events, about human beings,        their feelings, thoughts, actions, etc.

To me, the operative word here is fiction. And once again, turning to Webster:

Fiction: A making up of imaginary happenings.

So, my novel is indeed fiction, namely, something I made up. Of course, it is based on experiences I have had, people I have met, and emotions I have felt. But it is not real. It, like the other novels before it, is fiction. Like I said, I made it up.

Some might accuse me of reading too much into this (ahem), but I’m wondering, not so much about people’s forgetting the definition of the word novel per se. But I am wondering if this lapse has to do with the fact that people are reading fewer and fewer works of fiction these days. According to the statistics I have been reading for several years now, the majority of books sold (and presumably read) are works of nonfiction. They are histories, biographies, how-to’s, popular science, etc. In other words, they are not made up in the same way that novels are made up. And, I have to say, this does worry me.

The world is a dangerous place. If ever we needed to be able to imagine new worlds, new situations and new interactions, it’s now. I believe that we all need to start reading more fiction, not less. After all, it is by imagining different worlds and their resulting consequences that we can pick our ways through the dangers surrounding us and make rational, open-minded and openhearted choices.

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