Much as I enjoy writing the Dave Slater Mystery Novels, I have many other ideas I would like to develop. One of those I would most like to take further is set in the sixties, and I have played around with this one over the last few months. Recently I sat down and created a rough, one page trailer for the book (which I believe could easily become a series) and wrote the first two or three chapters. I printed these out, and handed copies to my wife and a couple of friends, and asked the question; ‘What do you think?'
I should point out these friends are in my own 60+ age group (but then most of my readers are) so, as a test, I also handed a copy of the trailer to my step-daughter who's obviously much younger. Her immediate reaction was ‘I'll read it!' I have to admit this was a bit of a thrill for me, but the comment that I found most interesting was from one of my friends, who said, ‘this just wouldn't happen in the real world.'
It's an honest opinion, intended as constructive criticism, but is it a valid comment? I don't think it is, and here's why:
In my opinion it's very simple, there is fiction, and there is non-fiction (fiction based on fact is still fiction). Fiction is primarily intended to entertain (although it can inform, too) and non-fiction is primarily intended to inform (although it can also be very entertaining). You could argue this viewpoint is too simplistic, but the important thing to remember here is fiction has been created in the imagination of a writer. This isn't just my opinion. Here are two of many definitions I found online…
From the Oxford English Dictionary:
Fiction – Literature in the form of prose, especially novels, that describes imaginary events and people.
Novel – A fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.
Fiction is the classification for any story, or element of a story, derived from imagination and not based strictly on history or fact.
Fiction constitutes an act of creative invention, so that faithfulness to reality is not typically assumed; in other words, fiction is not expected to present only characters who are actual people or descriptions that are factually true.
I could have gathered a lot more of these definitions here, but already you can see the common thread in the descriptive words: imaginary, some degree of realism, derived from imagination, an act of creative invention….
I've had the odd review of my books where it's been suggested my detectives don't follow correct procedure. ‘They wouldn't be able to do this in the real world.' And, of course, these reviewers are quite right, my detectives wouldn't be able to do some of the things they do if they worked in the real world, but I believe anyone leaving a review like this is missing the point. My detectives, don't live in the real world – they live in a world that I created in my head, and in my world, they play by my rules, and sometimes, for the sake of the story, they follow my procedures.
Let's face it, if every work of fiction had to stick to the facts, whole genres would be eradicated overnight. How would Harry Potter have got that letter about Hogwarts? (Nobody ever said, ‘but in the real world owls don't deliver letters,' did they?) And what would become of Science Fiction, or Fantasy?
Now, I'm not for one minute suggesting a reader shouldn't be allowed an opinion, or that they shouldn't be allowed to express that opinion in a review. Bad reviews are a fact of life if you're going to write, and I've had my share (you soon learn you can't please all of the people all of the time!) But, next time you're reading a novel and you think, ‘this wouldn't happen in the real world,' just bear in mind, if you choose to read fiction you are choosing to enter a world created by the author, and that, by definition, doesn't have to be the real world.
If you have an opinion about this, please feel free to comment below.