fiction. [Baldick, 1990] The general term for invented stories, now usually applied to novels, short stories, novellas, romances, fables, and other narrative works in prose, even though most plays and narrative poems are also fictional. The adjective fictitious tends to carry the unfavourable sense of falsehood, whereas 'fictional' is more neutral, and the archaic adjective fictive, revived by the poet Wallace Stevens and others. has a more positive sense closer to 'imaginative' or 'inventive'. Verb: fictionalize. See also metafiction.
[Abrams, 1999] Fiction and Truth. In an inclusive sense, fiction is any literary narrative, whether in prose or verse, which is invented instead of being an account of events that in fact happened. In a narrower sense, however, fiction denotes only narratives that are written in prose (the novel and short story), and sometimes is used simply as a synonym for the novel. Literary prose narratives in which the fiction is to a prominent degree based on biographical, historical, or contemporary facts are often referred to by compound names such as "fictional biography," the historical novel, and the nonfichon novel.
Both philosophers and literary critics have concerned themselves with the logical analysis of the types of sentences that constitute a fictional text, and especially with the question of their truth, or what is sometimes called their "truth-value"that is, whether, or in just what way, they are subject to the criterion of truth or falsity. Some thinkers have asserted that "fictional sentences" should be regarded as referring to a special world, "created" by the author, which is analogous to the real world, but possesses it own setting, beings, and mode of coherence. (See M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp, 1953, pp. 272-85, "The Poem as Heterocosm"; James Phelan, Worlds from Words: A Theory of Language in Fiction, 1981.) Others, most notably I. A. Richards, have held that fiction is a form of emotive language composed of pseudostatements; and that whereas a statement in "referential language" is "justified by its truth, i.e., its correspondence . . . with the fact to which it points," a pseudostatement "is justified entirely by its effect in releasing or organizing our attitudes" (I. A. Richards, Science and Poetry, 1926). Most current theorists, however, present an elaborated logical version of what Sir Philip Sidney long ago proposed in his Apology for Poetry (published 1595), that a poet "nothing affirmes, therefore never lyeth. For, as I take it, to lye is to affirm that to be true which is false." Current versions of this view hold that fictive sentences are meaningful according to the rules of ordinary, nonfictional discourse, but that, in accordance with conventions implicitly shared by the author and reader of a work of fiction, they are not put forward as assertions of fact, and therefore are not subject to the criterion of truth or falsity that applies to sentences in nonfictional discourse. See Margaret MacDonald, "The Language of Fiction" (1954), reprinted in W. E. Kennick, ed., Art and Philosophy (rev., 1979).
In speech act theory, a related view takes the form that a writer of fiction only "pretends" to make assertions, or "imitates" the making of assertions, and so suspends the "normal illocutionary commitment" of the writer of such utterances to the claim that what he asserts is true. See John R. Searle, "The Logical Status of Fictional Discourse," in Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts (1979, reprinted 1986). We find in a number of other theorists the attempt to extend the concept of "fictive utterances" to include all the genres of literaturepoems, narratives, and dramas, as well as novels; all these forms, it is proposed, are imitations, or fictive representations, of some type of "natural" discourse. A novel, for example, not only is made up of fictional utterances, but is itself a fictive utterance, in that it "represents the verbal action of a man [i.e., the narrator] reporting, describing, and referring." See Barbara Hernnstein Smith, "Poetry as Fiction," in Margins of Discourse (1978), and Richard Ohmann, "Speech Acts and the Definition of Literature," Philosophy and Rhetoric 4 (1971).
Most modern critics of prose fiction, whatever their persuasion, make an important distinction between the fictional scenes, persons, events, and dialogue that a narrator reports or describes and the narrator's own assertions about the world, about human life, or about the human situation; the central, or controlling, generalizations of the latter sort are said to be the theme or thesis of a work. These assertions by the narrator may be explicit (for example, Thomas Hardy's statement at the end of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, "The President of the immortals had had his sport with Tess"; or Tolstoy's philosophy of history at the end of War and Peace). Many such assertions, however, are said to be merely "implied," "suggested," or "inferrable" from the narrator's choice and control of the fictional characters and plot of the narrative itself. It is often claimed that such generalizations by the narrator within a fictional work, whether expressed or implied, function as assertions that claim to be true about the world, and that they thereby relate the fictional narrative to the factual and moral world of actual experience. See John Hospers, "Implied Truths in Literature" (1960), reprinted in W. E. Kennick, ed., Art and Philosophy (rev., 1979).
A much-discussed topic, related to the question of an author's assertions and truth-claims in narrative fiction, is that of the role of the beliefs of the reader. The problem raised is the extent to which a reader's own moral, religious, and social convictions, as they coincide with or diverge from those asserted or implied in a work, determine the interpretation, acceptability, and evaluation of that work by the reader. For the history and discussions of this problem in literary criticism, see William Joseph Rooney, The Problem of "Poetry and Belief" in Contemporary Criticism (1949); M. H. Abrams, editor and contributor, Literature and Belief (1957); Walter Benn Michaels, "Saving the Text: Reference and Belief," Modern Language Notes 93 (1978). Many discussions of the question of belief in fiction cite S. T. Coleridge's description of the reader's attitude as a "willing suspension of disbelief."
A review of theories concerning the relevance of the criterion of truth to fiction is Monroe C. Beardsley's Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (1958), pp. 409-19. For an analysis and critique of theories of emotive language see Max Black, "Questions about Emotive Meaning," in Language and Philosophy (1949), chapter 9. Gerald Graff defends propositional truth in poetry in Poetic Statement and Critical Dogma (1970), chapter 6. In the writings of Jacques Derrida and his followers in literary criticism, the opposition truth/falsity is one of the metaphysical presuppositions of Western thought that they put to question; see deconstruction. For a detailed treatment of the relations of fictions to the real world, including a survey of diverse answers to this problem, see Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen, Truth Fiction and Literature: A Philosophical Perspective (1994).