I study nonfiction and although I’ve become satisfied with all of the varieties of exploring the medium, I sometimes get bored talking about myself and my loved ones all of the time. This is why I’m currently taking a fiction course; I want to be able to cross genres eventually, but I want to be able to do it well.
Being out of my element during these last thirteen weeks, I’ve had a hard time figuring out what’s so made up about fiction because every story that’s been presented to me feels really real. And maybe I’m tripping because I’ve been reading nothing but personal narratives for the past couple of years, but there are no distinct lines that distinguish fact from fiction—it’s all just interpretation.
I know for a fact that most of the stories I’ve attempted to craft in this course have some element of truth behind them or some instance of lived experience threaded throughout, but I keep getting told that they’re made up. My professor says you can make a real story fictitious and my mind is blown because it all looks the same. I keep getting told that Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is made up when I know for a fact half of it is stolen directly from my childhood. They tell me that American Skin by Don De Grazia isn’t real and I do not understand where fact becomes disconnected in this book. It’s so disheartening when I am told something I’ve grown close to doesn’t even exist outside of the confines of its pages. It feels like my favorite character keeps dying on my favorite tv show over and over and over again.
I’ve been deep in this world of made up reality for only a few months but it sucks. I “make up” stories about sex addicts and crack addicts and write about all other sorts of addictions young adults like to romanticize. There is a concept, but the concept is always based on encounters I’ve had, or other pieces of fiction I’ve read. So I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to stray from the internal aspect of it all. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to unlearn dissecting the author’s distance from the narrative. And instead, I’m trying to learn how to nurture the finality that comes with fiction. I’m trying to learn how to nurture the idea that maybe some things just ain’t that deep. Some things are just beginnings, middles, and ends, and not backstories.
I try to find something that captures me about every story I read, and with most, I don’t have to look that hard. It’s easy to find sentences that halt my stride. It’s easy to find characters that I hate and those who I love. It’s easy to find material that connects on an inspirational or emotional level, whether you want to take it at face value or not. The more I keep reading, the deeper I get into the various points of views and language chosen in order to convey a universal message.
And although I have a hard time trying to figure out what is actually fictitious about these messages, I appreciate them for allowing me to decide whether I want to believe them or not. When I read fiction and lines are so personal, so singular, distancing myself from the author and their characters almost seems impossible. Part of me just wants to hug them and say, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” But according to my fiction comrades, they didn’t go through any of it. Some things feel way too real, but I guess that is the beauty of writing fake things—when it feels real, it means you’re beginning to master your art. Isn’t that the point of fiction anyway, to make you think you could’ve lived it?