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Wars produce many stories of fiction, some of which are told until they are believed to be true. ~ Ulysses S. Grant

Quotes about fiction, the type of literature using invented or imaginative writing instead of real facts.


  • Fiction is fact distilled into truth.
  • I do not blame the words, for they are, as it were, choice and precious vessels, but I do deplore the wine of error which was poured out to us by teachers already drunk. And, unless we also drank we were beaten, without liberty of appeal to a sober judge.
    • Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 16.
  • We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind - mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the preempting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality.
    • J. G. Ballard, "Introduction" to the French edition (1974) of Crash (1973), reprinted in Re/Search no. 8/9 (1984).
  • Fiction is not imagination. It is what anticipates imagination by giving it the form of reality. This is quite opposite to our own natural tendency which is to anticipate reality by imagining it, or to flee from it by idealizing it. That is why we [Europeans] shall never inhabit true fiction; we are condemned to the imaginary and nostalgia for the future. The American way of life is spontaneously fictional, since it is a transcending of the imaginary in reality.
  • Every novel is an ideal plane inserted into the realm of reality.
  • Reality is not always probable, or likely. But if you're writing a story, you have to make it as plausible as you can, because if not, the reader's imagination will reject it.
    • Jorge Luis Borges, discussion published in the Columbia Forum and later quoted in Worldwide Laws of Life : 200 Eternal Spiritual Principles (1998) by John Templeton.
  • It is we in fiction who show no respite or mercy, relentlessly depicting civilization as irredeemably stupid or morally bankrupt. If movies and novels were our basis for judging — say you were an alien relying only on the testimony of our adventure flicks beamed into space — then you would conclude that no human institution can be trusted. Cops won't answer when you call. Or they'll arrive late. Or if they come in time, they'll prove staggeringly inept. Or else, if they swoop in swiftly and seem competent, they will turn out to be in cahoots with the bad guy.

ː Now imagine that your typical film director ever found herself in real trouble, or the novelist fell afoul of deadly peril. What would they do? They would dial 9-1-1! They'd call for help and expect — demand — swift-competent intervention by skilled professionals who are tax-paid, to deal with urgent matters skillfully and well. In other words there is a stark disconnect between the world that film-makers live in, and the worlds that they portray. An absolute opposite of expectation.

And yet, directors like Cameron, Nolan, Spielberg and their peers clearly don't think they are lying, or doing harm, or insulting the public or civilization or the dedicated professionals they depend upon. I doubt the thought even crosses their minds.
  • In fact the self-preventing prophecy is arguably the most important type of literature, since it gives us a stick to wield, poking into the ground before us as we charge into a murky future, exploring with our minds what quicksand dangers may lurk just ahead. This kind of thought experiment — that Einstein called gedankenexperiment — is the fruit of our prefrontal lobes, humanity's most unique and recent organ, the font of our greatest gifts: curiosity, empathy, anticipation and resilience. Indeed, forward-peering storytelling is one of the major ways that we turn fear into something profoundly practical. Avoidance of failure. The early detection and revelation of Big Mistakes, before we even get a chance to make them. While hardly in the same league as Orwell, Huxley, Bradbury, Carson, and Butler, I'm proud to be part of that tradition — an endeavor best performed by science fiction.
Ironically, most writers don't believe society is really that awful. They aren't trying to be accurate! No, they are creating a commercial product, one that has certain fundamental and ineludible requirements. The most basic of which is this: thou shalt keep thy hero or heroine in pulse-pounding jeopardy for 400 pages... or ninety minutes of film. That is the First Commandment. If you succeed in keeping the audience tense and riveted, then all else is secondary.
  • Ah, but think again about those skilled professionals. The cops and firefighters and FBI guys who are paid to keep us safe. If they show up on time, competent and effective, they will tell your protagonist: "Hey, that was real cool what you did in scene one, foiling that first villainous plot-thing. Only now step aside. We'll take over from here."

̈* Because if they don't split up — if they behave like intelligent people who pool their resources and march out of there with linked arms — the author might actually have to exercise some imagination in order to keep up that precious jeopardy for 90 minutes. But if you start with an assumption of stupidity, the script almost writes itself, hurtling from one gruesome decapitation to the next.

    • David Brin [1]
  • Truth is always strange;
    Stranger than fiction.
  • The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous.
  • As regards plots I find real life no help at all. Real life seems to have no plots.
    • Ivy Compton-Burnett, "A Conversation Between I. Compton-Burnett and M. Jourdain", in R. Lehmann et al. (eds.) Orion (London: Nicholson & Watson, 1945) vol. 1, p. 2.
  • The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
  • Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.
  • My fiction is not autobiography. I am not an exhibitionist. I do not show myself. I am not asking for forgiveness. I do not want to confess. But I have used everything I know—my life—to show what I believe must be shown so that it can be faced. The imperative at the heart of my writing—what must be done—comes directly from my life. But I do not show my life directly, in full view; nor even look at it while others watch.
  • A plot is about things that happen. A story is about people who behave. To admire a story you must be willing to listen to the people and observe them.
  • To read fiction means to play a game by which we give sense to the immensity of things that happened, are happening, or will happen in the actual world. By reading narrative, we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative — the reason people tell stories, and have told stories from the beginning of time.
    • Umberto Eco, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (1994) Chapter Four: "Possible Woods".
  • The central function of imaginative literature is to make you realize that other people act on moral convictions different from your own.
    • William Empson, Milton's God (1961; repr. London: Chatto & Windus, 1965) p. 261.
  • A story with a moral appended is like the bill of a mosquito. It bores you, and then injects a stinging drop to irritate your conscience.
    • O. Henry, "The Gold that Glittered" in Strictly Business (1910).
  • A man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid of all your daily cares.
    Another said: I bet that is also a parable.
    The first said: You have won.
    The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.
    The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.
  • Fiction is Truth's elder sister. Obviously. No one in the world knew what truth was till some one had told a story.
  • True myth may serve for thousands of years as an inexhaustible source of intellectual speculation, religious joy, ethical inquiry, and artistic renewal. The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The fake one is. You look at it and it vanishes. You look at the Blond Hero — really look — and he turns into a gerbil. But you look at Apollo, and he looks back at you. The poet Rilke looked at a statue of Apollo about fifty years ago, and Apollo spoke to him. "You must change your life," he said. When true myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message. You must change your life.
    • Ursula K. Le Guin, "Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction", Parabola I (4), Fall 1976.
  • The artist deals in what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.
  • Good books tell the truth, even when they're about things that never have been and never will be. They're truthful in a different way.
    • Stanisław Lem, "Pirx's Tale" in More Tales of Pirx The Pilot (1983).
  • For if the proper study of mankind is man, it is evidently more sensible to occupy yourself with the coherent, substantial and significant creatures of fiction than with the irrational and shadowy figures of real life.
  • Why should murder be so over-represented in our popular fiction, and crimes of a sexual nature so under-represented? Surely it cannot be because rape is worse than murder, and is thus deserving of a special unmentionable status. Surely, the last people to suggest that rape was worse than murder were the sensitively reared classes of the Victorian era … And yet, while it is perfectly acceptable (not to say almost mandatory) to depict violent and lethal incidents in lurid and gloating high-definition detail, this is somehow regarded as healthy and perfectly normal, and it is the considered depiction of sexual crimes that will inevitably attract uproars of the current variety.
  • Cartman: What the hell do you think you're doing declaring leprechauns aren't real?!
General: What?
Cartman: You just can't declare that imaginary things aren't real! Who are you to say what's real?! Think about it: is blue real? Is love really real?
Lab Tech: Imaginary things are things made up by people, like Santa and Rudolph.
Tom: Yeah, and they detract from real things, like Jesus.
Tech 1: Maybe Jesus is imaginary too.
Tom: Ooooh, you'd better not say that! You'll go to hell!
Tech 7: It's possible that hell is also imaginary.
Tech 2: Uh so then, we're about to nuke hell... that's a good thing, right?
Personnel: [not all at once] Hell yeah, that's a good thing, yeah.
Lab Tech: What if heaven is imaginary? We'd be nuking heaven.
Tech 3: Yeah, but it wouldn't be real.
Lab Tech 2: So it'd be all right.
Cartman: Look, maybe they're all part of the same thing. Santa and Jesus and hell and- leprechauns. Maybe they're all real in the same way, right?
Tom: Santa Claus and leprechauns are imaginary, but Jesus and hell are real!
Tech 3: Well then, what about Buddha?
Tom: Well of course he's imaginary!
Lab Tech 3: Awww, see? Now you're being intolerant, Tom.
Tech 7: Am I real?
General: All right, enough! Keep that kid out of the way and let's get back to the nuking at hand!
Cartman: [two guards haul him away] No! Leprechauns are real, Goddammit!

Kyle: It's all real. Think about it. Haven't Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? I mean, whether Jesus is real or not, he...he's had a bigger impact on the world than any of us have. And the same could be said of Bugs Bunny and Superman and Harry Potter. They've changed my life, changed the way I act on the Earth. Doesn't that make them kind of "real." They might be imaginary, but they're more important than most of us here. And they're all gonna be around long after we're dead. So in a way, those things are more realer than any of us.
    • South Park Imaginationland: The Movie written by Trey Parker
  • Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.
  • Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.
  • Novels so often provide an anodyne and not an antidote, glide one into torpid slumbers instead of rousing one with a burning brand.

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