Literature for African Students - complete text available on Kindle


What is fiction?
Some students in secondary school ask: What is fiction? When you began to read books perhaps you were puzzled by what you were reading. Perhaps you asked your teacher: Is fiction the same as lies?

Is fiction lies or is it something else?

I hope by now that you have discovered the difference between fiction and lies. When someone is telling lies he intends to deceive; he hopes that the other person will believe that what he is saying is the truth. A writer of fiction is not like this. What he wants the reader to do is to pretend while he is reading the book that the events are true. But after the reader has finished reading the book, he stops pretending and knows that the events did not happen. This is sometimes called the suspension of disbelief. This means that while the reader is reading, or the play-goer is watching a play, he or she turns off his knowledge that the events are not true, and behaves, for a time, as though they were true. It is important to remember this because not all the world's cultures have had fiction in this sense. In those cultures which have not had fiction there are sometimes misunderstandings# about a novel and its relation to the real world.

A work of fiction can be based on or include descriptions of real events. But the reader must be careful not to use a work of fiction as a description of non-fictional events.

A good example is the novel "The Tiger's Wife" by Tea Obreht. It is set in an un-named country in towns that exist on no map.The country may resemble in some respects Yugoslavia after one of the recent wars there. But it is not that country.

Does an author express his own ideas in a novel? Do the speeches of the characters represent his own beliefs? Not necessarily. A writer of fiction is using his imagination. He can make characters express views which he himself does not hold. A writer may invent a character with extreme political views. That character must of course speak about these views and even advocate them. The writer as a private person may oppose these views. But as a writer of fiction he must write these views as well as he can. He should make the character seem convincing. It is a common error to believe that every novelist is writing about his own experiences, but imagination is the skill of making up things. Thus it is unwise to assume a novelist has experienced all the things he writes about. Doris Lessing especially has complained that her four novels about life in the fictional country of Zambesia (Children of Violence) are not based on her own life and that it is silly for critics to assume that she took part in the events described. A writer is making up things and people and may explore ideas in the same way that a painter can make images of things which never existed.

Fiction is not only in the form of words on paper. It can also be found in the form of films, both in the cinema and on television. Some people, even in America, find it difficult to tell when something on television is fiction. An educated person should learn to tell the difference between fiction and non-fiction in every medium.#

Before an author starts to write a novel, or the script of a film, or a play, the idea of the story may be in his mind as a picture or image. That is, the story begins as imagination. Imagination is the process of making pictures in the mind, making up something which never existed before. All fiction is the result of imagination.

Something which is really there also makes pictures in the mind. That is how we understand what we see. The difference between the real world and fiction is that in fiction the eyes see nothing outside.

The better a writer, the better will be the pictures in his mind, and the better his ability to make pictures appear in the mind of the reader. The reader needs imagination as well as the writer.

Anyone might have imagination but if he can't describe what he sees using language no-one will ever know. We can't see into another person's mind so the only way we can find out about his imagination is through the words he uses.

Earlier I mentioned that the study of literature is really the art of Advanced Reading. What you as a student are doing is to learn how to make pictures in your mind like those which were in the mind of the author as he wrote. One of the reasons why some authors are so easy to read is that they don't have so much in their minds as they write. Other writers are much more difficult to read and one reason may be that they have so much in their minds that it is not easy to see it quickly. Of course a book may be badly written. Perhaps the writer has used language more complicated than is really needed - and he has failed to describe his pictures well.

Tea Obreht - The Tiger's Wife

Tea Obreht - the Tiger's Wife (novel)

Die Tigerfrau

La Femme du tigre

Doris Lessing - Martha Quest

Martha Quest (Zyklus Kinder der Gewalt)

Doris Lessing. Les Enfants de la violence. 1. Martha Quest : EMartha Queste, traduit de l'anglais par Doussia Ergaz et Florence Cravoisier




















Since 13/02/12

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