Factual Versus Fictional Writing
I have been thinking about the differences, the pro’s and con’s of factual versus fictional writing all day,
after someone told me that they struggle to read fictional work, because their reading time is so limited.
I understand the time factor, but less so why so-called factual literature should be deemed more important than
fictional. I find this subject difficult to write about in a short piece, so please bear with me.
The first thing to consider is whether factual accounts are actually true. When a famous personage writes his
memoirs, who is to know what has been sanitised or left out? Likewise, when a person writes about his travels, in
whatever dimension, who knows whether that was what he experienced or fictional?
Even when someone is trying to be fair, as in describing a marital breakdown, there are always two sides, two
perspectives, to the story at least, plus those of the children, if any. Likewise, when a general describes a
battle, he has most likely only observed it from a distance. Soldiers fighting for their lives, don’t have time to
make notes, so parts of the account could be fictional or at best whimsical.
Would a French, German or Belgian account of the Battle of Waterloo be the same as the British version or would
they call it partly fictional? I doubt if they would agree completely, so what is factual? As they say, the victor
‘Factual’ clearly comes down to meaning “someone’s opinion of events”.
Then there is fiction. This is honestly someone’s opinion, because it is described as fiction, it is not opinion
masquerading as the Truth. One of the problems with factual stories, is that they pertain to one person or
So, you can read an account of a young person’s suffering from, say, child abuse, and say ‘Isn’t it awful that
Joe Blogs went through that!’ However, fiction allows the writer to take the story away from the personal and make
the reader realise that it is going on all around him or her.
It also limits the chances of being accused of slander or libel, because it is no longer Joe Blogs’ tale of woe,
but that of a section of the community as a whole. Fiction can transform a personal tragedy into a documentary on
‘But what about Sci-Fi?’, I hear some people saying.
Good Sci-Fi is predictive, as good fiction is documentational.
I loved Star Trek from day one, and was not surprised when mobile phones, lithium and proton drives were
invented or considered a possibility. The widespread use of computers too. Look at Arthur C. Clarke’s predictions,
I, and millions of other kids, had heard of all that stuff long before our parents. Admittedly, not before many
scientists, but they weren’t spreading the word. What did the readers of ‘factual’ stories know of this exciting
Nothing, because they were reading about someone else’s opinion of history. This is my summary: ‘factual’ is
about the past and tends to be local or personal, but fiction can be as widespread as the writer wants, in time,
manner and space.
Fiction allows the writer more room to get his point across. It is time for intellectual snobbery against
fiction to stop. Fiction is a more flexible genre of the art form of writing and should not be dismissed
When I started writing, I went through an exercise to distil my thoughts, and came up with:
‘I write about what I see, or think I see, or dream, and in the end, it is all the same’.
Please read part two here
by +Owen Jones