What makes fiction fictional?


I watch PBS Idea Channel religiously, and I find the presentation of the ideas in question (and the ideas themselves) to be fantastic. But rarely has one of these videos come back again and again to drift around my brain.

As an avid reader and encourage-er of readers, the question of What Is Fiction makes me want to talk about the world of fictionalization and the realness of fiction (and necessity of realness within fiction), but I’m still trying to figure out if I can answer the last question Mike Rugnetta (who does the talking in these videos) poses: “What are fictional objects? References? Possible worlds? Mental creations?” (That, of course, barely sums up over 7 minutes of philosophizing, but it’s the underlying question.) And I wonder if that question actually matters. I wonder if the fact that something is fictional makes it real because it is real to someone–which I suppose puts fictional objects into the mental creations sphere. But I’m not sure that that is all they are. They are created by someone (the author) and then they have a life of their own–they become different things for different people and gain realness the longer that they are alive, for a given definition of living. They have wants and needs (if they’re a fleshed out character or object–even a tree needs water and sunlight) and they desire to be. Does that not make them real?

I’m not entirely sure what to think, but it’s a fascinating question, to be sure.


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