The World in Fiction

The contrast between the genres of fiction and nonfiction – between, for example, novels, short stories and fiction films on the one hand, and histories, biographies and documentaries on the other – is often reduced to a distinction between fiction and fact. Works of nonfiction, it is thought, aim at the truth (whether or not they succeed); their job is to convey information, to prompt beliefs about the real world. By contrast, works of fiction need not be true; their job is to entertain, to invite imaginings about fictional worlds. This contrast is pervasive not only in popular culture but also in the academy, where it generates various puzzles, for example about the reference of names or the metaphysics of fictional worlds. In my first talk I argue that the contrast between fiction and fact is misguided. Works of fiction, like works of nonfiction, are about the real world – though they ask us to imagine the world differently from how it actually is. I make this argument by considering the role of real-world background and representations of reality in our understanding of fictional narratives. Puzzles about fiction arise because, once we have severed the connection between fiction and reality, we have difficulty bridging the gap. I propose that we deny the gap altogether.