Unreal Reality in Fiction

Unreal Reality in FictionEver considered the unreal reality in fiction? Fiction isn’t reality. Contemporary stories and fantasy stories exist in different planes of reality but there’s a lot of gray areas. Philosophers and scientists debate the very nature of reality all the time. What is ‘real?’

We perceive and experience reality in individual ways. We each construct our own reality according to our senses, values biases and prejudices. For example there are people who believe in ghosts and there are people who don’t according to their belief system, experience and acceptance of ‘evidence.’

Here’s a controversial idea: reality is a sliding scale. This includes fiction.

Including the Kitchen Sink

Most novels aren’t labelled as ‘realism,’ it is generally accepted as the default. I studied the British social-realist novels of the ’50’s and ’60’s:

  • John Braine, Room at the Top (1957)
  • Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night & Sunday Morning (1958)
  • Stan Barstow, A Kind of Loving (1960)
  • Keith Waterhouse, Billy Liar (1959)
  • David Storey, This Sporting Life (1960)

Labelled ‘kitchen sink dramas’ or ‘domestic dramas,’ they are dramatised lives. They threw a spotlight on blue-collar characters, in a new and ‘revolutionary’ movement by blue-collar writers in the egalitarian post-war generation.

Before that, you can think of Austen, Bronte and Dickens as writers of realist novels of their time.
Social realism or grounded realism contains nothing fantastical. Not sensationalized in any way, seemingly nothing is manipulated for drama. This is storytelling in the mundanity of life; daily routine, work life, home life, eating, sleeping, dating, doing the laundry.

Fiction as Construct

Here’s the thing; all fiction is a construct. Fiction is a set of choices; highlighting, editing, cutting, compressing.

Fictional events are more dramatic, more coincidental, more sensational than they are in real life. We willingly suspend our disbelief and accept these as the reality of the story. Dickens is full of coincidence and happenstance, hidden connections and dramatic reveals. Dickens is entirely melodramatic yet we refer to his books as ‘realist.’ Clever old Charlie.

Pride and Prejudice is a ‘contemporary’ (for Austen) romance. Event’s take place over a number of months, not in real time. There’s nothing fantastic, but it does contain huge amounts of coincidence and compression. I say, Darcy’s nemesis George Wickham happens to turn up in Meryton with his regiment! What are the chances? Mr Collins happens to hold the chaplaincy at Lady Catherine’s parish. Well I never.

Yet we still suspend our disbelief and buy into this made-up world, untouched by the Napoleonic wars, slavery and the Industrial Revolution. It becomes our reality for the duration. The same as Middle Earth, Narnia and the Animal Farm. This is why The Matrix strikes such a chord: reality is what you accept is real. It’s the unreal reality in fiction.

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  1. Pingback: Lose yourself in timeless fiction from literary greats | Robin Catling

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