Fact or Fiction?

It’s a question I get asked often:  “Are your stories autobiographical?  How much from your own life do you incorporate into your fiction?”



The answer to this question, at least for me, has always been–no, the stories I write are not autobiographical per se.  But yes, absolutely, I do include many experiences from my own life in the fiction I write.  I always urge people not to read too deeply between the lines, trying to “decode” the author behind the words.  Just because Joe Marma or Ryan Swinton react a certain way to a problem doesn’t mean I would react the same way.

On the other hand, there are fragments of me scattered throughout my stories like road maps.  If you were to gather up all of these fragments, they would begin to form a picture.  For instance, in The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant‘s love of The Fantastic Four mirrors my own.  His overly imaginative mind is also a reflection of me.  His shyness and awkwardness around girls very much relates to the way I felt when I was in middle school.

Marc Kuslanksi‘s thick tortoiseshell glasses, and the way he continually pushes them up the bridge of his nose?  I did that myself, thousands of times, growing up.  (I now wear contact lenses.)  His feelings of loneliness and alienation from kids his own age?  I went through spells just like that.  Most children do, I think, at one time or another.

And of course there are the themes.  I genuinely care about the stories I write and the characters who reside within them.  The themes and ideas presented in The Eye-Dancers are themes and ideas that resonate for me:  childhood; growing up; the struggles, joys, friendships, and bonds formed during adolescence; quantum physics; comic books; camaraderie; dreams; parallel worlds; 1950s-style settings; and examining the very concept of the term “reality.”



This takes me back to the question that began this post.  “How much of your own life do you incorporate into your fiction?”  The question, of course, by its very nature, assumes that one’s own life is “real” and the fiction he or she creates is, well, fiction.  But is this entirely true?  What makes something “real”?  And what makes something “fiction”?

The textbook answer here is simple.  If something actually happens, it’s real.  If it’s made up, it’s fiction.  But let’s look deeper.  This morning, I laughed at a good joke.  It was funny, and I enjoyed it.  This is reality, correct?  But then let’s say I tell the same joke in a story I’m writing, through the mouth of someone like Ryan Swinton, and you as the reader laugh at the joke.  What’s the difference?  Does it matter that I laughed at a joke told by a “real” person, and that you laughed at a joke told by a “fictional” character?

When we read stories that engage, when we become captivated, riveted by the words on the page, the characters in the story start to seem real.  We care about them, worry about them, love them, hate them, cry with them, and laugh with them.  We experience the same emotions we would in our “real” everyday lives.  And this begs the question.  Is “reality” determined by facts, actual physical events?  Or is it determined by our feelings, the way something moves us or touches us?

I can read a bland news article on tort reform, and not care.  Or I can read a short story that touches me deeply and makes me look at the world in a new and different way.  Which is more “real” in this case?  The tort reform, or the characters in the work of “fiction” that speak to me in such a personal way?



In The Eye-Dancers, the four main characters’ understanding of reality is brought into question in more ways than one.  How could some mysterious “ghost girl” haunt each of their dreams, three nights in a row?  And are they just dreams, or something more?  When they travel through a blue, infinite void, are they dreaming it, or actually experiencing it?  And is there a difference?  When they arrive in the variant town of Colbyville, where is it?  How did they get there?  Where is the ghost girl, whose swirling blue eyes drew them in and through the void?  So many questions, so many riddles.

At one juncture, in chapter 12, convinced they are marooned in a parallel universe, science wiz Marc Kuslanski explains his theory on alternate worlds, on the layers upon layers of reality . . .

“It is a challenging concept. . . . Infinity will blow your mind if you let it.  What I do is, I try to visualize one universe overlapping another, sort of like an invisible shadow.  And these shadows go on in every direction.  They keep overlapping and they never end, and most of the time, people within one of the shadows never know about the people in any of the other ones.”



And what The Eye-Dancers does is ask, What if?  What if Marc’s multi-verse hypothesis is correct?  What if parallel-worlds theory is true?  And what if someone out there, say, a little girl with haunting blue eyes and powers she doesn’t even understand, has the ability to pierce through the dimensional gap?  What if “reality” is actually a multi-layered thing that cannot truly be defined by Webster or Wikipedia?

And what if what we term “fiction,” with its ability to reach deep into the secret, precious corners of the heart, is in fact just another, and perhaps more profound, version of “reality”?

So, yes, when it’s put that way, the fictional stories I create are truer and more personal than any diary entry I could ever write.

Fact or fiction?



Is there really a difference?

Thanks so much for reading!


44 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. coyotero2112
    May 15, 2013 @ 17:15:11

    I intend for my writing to be a mystery as to whether it’s fact of fiction. This made me think just who I would list as my ten favorite authors are, and the ones I came up with are blenders. That old advice, “Write what you know,” seems so silly…what else could you write? I would say write about what you want to know starting with what you do know.


  2. merrildsmith
    May 15, 2013 @ 17:17:04

    I really enjoyed this post. I liked the way you connected the strands between fact and fiction. I had never quite thought about fact and fiction in this way before–so thanks!


  3. Lipstick and Chaos
    May 15, 2013 @ 17:29:49

    great post – I find, in my writing, I tend to incorporate both fact and fiction – keep up the great work!!!


  4. joseyphina
    May 15, 2013 @ 18:09:33

    Interesting post. Given me a lot to think about.


  5. FreeUrCloset
    May 15, 2013 @ 18:52:47

    I enjoyed reading this post. It is true. When I get immersed in a really good work of fiction, the story is more than real to me and so are the characters. -Natasha


  6. Silvia
    May 15, 2013 @ 19:08:04

    My stories are always autobiographical in the sense that I’m living the events as I make them up. It’s awesome, like living many lives. My characters are rays that depart from me to the unknown. A hug!


  7. conjurors
    May 15, 2013 @ 20:29:59

    Very thought provoking. I’ve heard that many writers create a hero or heroine who is an idealized version of themselves.


  8. Christy Birmingham
    May 15, 2013 @ 20:49:48

    Sometimes people mistake the ‘I’ in my poems for me, yet sometimes they are simply fiction. Other times the ‘I’ does relate to me… I think readers are best to appreciate the words and story rather than trying to understand the author who wrote them.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 16, 2013 @ 13:18:39

      Well said, Christy!:) I know I’ve run into that, too! And you’re right, when something is written in the first person, people have a tendency to do that even more . . .


  9. Carol Wuenschell
    May 15, 2013 @ 22:24:55

    Interesting. I like the idea of fiction being a kind of reality.

    I made a conscious decision a long time ago that the stories I made up would not be about me because I didn’t want to be a Walter Mitty, living in an imagined world where I was “better” than I am. But when you write fiction, you do create an adjunct to reality, if not a reality per se. It must be believable. The characters must be believable. Of course you draw on your own experience..You’d be foolish not to.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 16, 2013 @ 13:20:42

      Great comments! And the “fiction is reality” principle certainly feels very true when you’re in the process of creating a story, when your characters are “talking” and “thinking” seemingly independent of you, right in your own head! Quite a feeling.:)


  10. indytony
    May 15, 2013 @ 23:10:15

    I don’t know the original quote, but I heard Garrison Keillor once say something like, “The best stories tell the truth as if it were a lie and lie as if it were the truth.”


  11. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    May 15, 2013 @ 23:30:38

    Writers need to write what they know to be believable, however, It is important to live within the character in some way too. When children play “make-believe,” they ARE the protagonist who bests the wicked witch. It is real to them and therefore, real to the others in the “cast”.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 16, 2013 @ 13:24:42

      This is a great point. I know for me, many times, the characters in my stories seem to be living and breathing, speaking lines and doing things that never occurred to me ahead of time! It is a wild and wonderful feeling . . .


  12. Deborah Hawkins
    May 16, 2013 @ 04:01:03

    Fact creeps on little cat feet into my fiction. But whose fact? Mine or someone else’s?


  13. WyndyDee
    May 18, 2013 @ 12:42:17

    Reblogged this on Wyndy Dee and commented:
    Nicely put…


  14. maryamchahine
    May 18, 2013 @ 19:47:44

    Some interesting questions and thoughts, Mike! I’m not sure I have any answers for them, but I think you have made me realize that fact and fiction are not so different perhaps.

    As a writer, I don’t want people to know too much about me because I think it ruins in some measure their experience of my work. It just like an actor whose private life is out in the open like a book for everyone to read, and you see them on the screen acting in a role which you know to be the total opposite of that person, and so it is harder to believe the character they are portraying on the screen. Even on my blog, I don’t talk about myself too much as I don’t want people trying to “read” me in my work.

    When people read my work, they automatically assume that what I write comes from my own experience when its definitely not the case except in some instances. Writing for me is more of an exploration of experiences different from my own, going into the minds of dictators and tyrants, trying to understand death, understanding the emotions of a soldier in a war, etc. I have experienced none of these things. And I know this goes against the advice given to writers – to write what you know. I’m not that interested in what I know as I am in what I don’t know. However, I’m slowly becoming aware that even when I’m exploring experiences that are not my own, my own perceptions and ideas are coloring the experiences I’m writing about, so in that way it is coming from what I imagine things to be or my expectations.

    Anyway, I usually come away from your blog posts with some interesting things to think about. By the way, I have started reading the Eye Dancers, and it is really good so far! It’s got my attention. I like the pacing in the story thus far and the fact that it doesn’t get bogged down in boring details. If life wasn’t so busy for me as it is right now, I’d be able to read it much faster.

    Have a great weekend!


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 20, 2013 @ 17:12:58

      Thanks for your very thoughtful comments, Maryam! It’s great hearing so many views on writing, and that’s one of the (many) things I really enjoy about WordPress. We can write posts and then follow up with great discussions about the creative process. I’m glad to hear, too, that you’re enjoying The Eye-Dancers so far!


  15. reocochran
    May 19, 2013 @ 16:02:07

    This helps us to understand your characters but I do think everyone who likes to write puts something of themselves in most of their characters. I hope that you will continue to share your personal opinions and stories, too. I enjoyed this very much!


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 20, 2013 @ 17:14:40

      Thanks, Robin! And you’re right, of course. I think all writers project some aspect of themselves into most of their characters. Even if it’s just one thing in a character otherwise very different from yourself. Anyway, thanks again for your comments! It’s always great hearing from you.:)


  16. laurie27wsmith
    May 20, 2013 @ 09:35:50

    Great post, always had an affinity for the parallel universe theory. As to whether authors write themselves into their stories, I think you can’t help but do it. Even if it is a tic, or a preference, a foible. You can’t distance yourself from your work.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 20, 2013 @ 17:16:44

      Very true. There’s always something, some way, somehow . . . And that’s a good point about tics–a lot of times it’s just little things like that that are put into stories as well . . .


  17. Charron's Chatter
    May 20, 2013 @ 17:07:11

    I love the brane graphic you have–and my thoughts are this: reality is just your concept of it. You can only view the world through your view-finder…so it is ALL subject to interpretation.

    Way to play both sides of the fence…:) You are really good at writing interesting articles that yet incorporate your book–the purpose of your blog, I am guessing. This motivation is interesting to me because I need to start ramping up my “teasers” or what have you for REMIX. By hook or crook (but probably Nook) I am going to publish that bad boy–with or without “pub house”…so often confused with corner bar, hehe…


  18. The Eye-Dancers
    May 20, 2013 @ 17:18:55

    Well, all I can say, Karen, is I am sure you will do a great job at ramping up those teasers.:) Your website is a joy. And it’s always great reading your feedback!


  19. likeitiz
    May 20, 2013 @ 19:42:31

    Now, you’ve got me there. I can see how these two, fact and fiction, can somehow weave in and out of our consciousness like a tapestry. We may draw some features for a character we are creating from someone in our lives, maybe a close relation or a mere acquaintance. Or we may, as we develop a character, become that person in our heads so we can feel what he/she feels, reacts, decides, etc. Thanks for the insight. As always, quite thought-provoking.


  20. honeydidyouseethat?
    May 20, 2013 @ 23:32:18

    That’s funny. My family says that’s not exactly how it happened, and I remind them to read the banner!!! 🙂 How can you not incorporate your experiences into fiction?


  21. FreeRangeCow
    May 22, 2013 @ 15:53:24

    Interesting question and points. I find it quite liberating to hide “the ugly truth” when I do it behind a character. It’s not that I don’t like being authentic or honest, myself, but it can take the sting off when I push my sass off onto something/one else.


  22. 2embracethelight
    May 26, 2013 @ 04:40:37

    Excellent advice. I have had to deal with people sometimes reading too much into something I’ve written. Next thing I know I have a full blown fire I am putting out.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 28, 2013 @ 13:00:55

      Yes, and that is always a very frustrating situation to deal with, isn’t it? I guess the tendency for many readers is often to read too much into fictional stories or other creative pieces. I suppose that goes with the territory.:)


  23. teagan geneviene
    May 12, 2014 @ 18:01:45

    “I always urge people not to read too deeply between the lines, trying to “decode” the author behind the words.”
    Mike, I’m glad I discovered this older post… It seems like there are always people who want to find symbols and generally over-analyze. Maybe that happens more with fantasy stories, I don’t know. I’m glad to know it’s not just me. 🙂


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