Fictional Nonfiction: Publishable?

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Fictional Nonfiction: Publishable?

Postby JohnDurvin » 18 Feb 2011, 16:23

Sometimes when I'm having trouble with my narrative prose, I'll do a bit of brainstorming in the form of a miscellany--sometimes it's a John Hodgman-style pile of fictional trivia, sometimes it's a manual to a non-existent video game. It's often helped me build the worlds I'm writing in, especially as a break from a current WIP, but in some of these things I've got enough material to publish the side-projects by themselves, along the lines of Jorge Luis Borges' "Book of Imaginary Beings" or those bizarre old travelogues of John Mandeville and Baron Munchausen. The problem, though, is that so far as I'm aware, you have to go to things like that for a comparison--it's just not something contemporary writers do outside the humor section. Does a textbook on the history and culture of a fictional American state sound readable to anybody? Would you pick up a catalog of imaginary Nintendo games? Could an unpublished author convince a literary agent to represent a non-historical bestiary?
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Re: Fictional Nonfiction: Publishable?

Postby polymath » 18 Feb 2011, 17:46

I know those sorts of fictional facts as False Documents included in novels. A false document is a contrived document that is real in a fictional world. Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy references a false document by the same name, for example. Sometimes false documents take on a real-world life on their own. The textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them introduced in the first Harry Potter installment was published in the real world 2001.

False documents occur throughout the opus of literature as letters, diaries, novels, textbooks, state papers, newspaper, magazine, encyclopedia articles, fictional person prefaces, introductions, prologues, etc. False documents aren't limited to book and digest publications. They can be any invented document. ID card, cereal box, book cover blurb, manual, TV commercial, speech, platitude, quotation, billboard, schematic, and so on.

One thing I've not seen that I can think of is a false document known to be a false document arising in a fictional world and reported as a factual document of an internal fictional world. No, wait, I have, sort of, Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle references a novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which references a fictional history that is the real-world factual history.
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Re: Fictional Nonfiction: Publishable?

Postby Jenemb » 18 Feb 2011, 22:24

I'm reading "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" at the moment. Is that the sort of thing you mean?
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Re: Fictional Nonfiction: Publishable?

Postby JohnDurvin » 19 Feb 2011, 09:25

More along the lines of one of my favorite books which I managed to forget about while writing this, "The Toughpick Guide to Fantasyland" by Dianne Wynn Jones, which tells the gestalt ur-fantasy novel in the form of an encyclopedic listing of the tropes of the genre. I think my problem is that I have more fun world-building than writing the actual book, and I'm trying to find other ways to do what I want.
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Re: Fictional Nonfiction: Publishable?

Postby polymath » 19 Feb 2011, 10:10

Narratives have one quality that distinguishes them from other information media. They emotionally engage readers' imaginations. And plot is the principal vehicle for engaging readers emotionally, though settings, ideas, characters, events, and discourse play their parts as well.

Creative nonfiction prose isn't as beholden to plot as fiction, as much as other SPICED aspects, as long as at least one facet of plot emotionally engages readers' imaginations. Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation engages readers' curiosity for a macabre fascination with U.S. presidential assassinations. Curiosity relates to plot's tension axis through empathy and suspense aspects. Curiosity is an emotional condition with which readers build empathy--rapport--for Vowell's peculiar vacation. However, empathy needs at least two emotional conditions in order to profoundly engage rapport. Another emotion Vowell invokes is pity for a woman with such peculiar vacation tastes. The fundamental dramatic question driving suspense, What will happen? on an assassination vacation to Sarah Vowell, relates to plot's fundamental need for a life-defining transformation and emotional payoff in the final outcome.

I see potential in a Fictional nonfiction with worldbuilding ramifications in a metafictive way. What if the insuperable struggles of worldbuilding is the plot? What the heck, throw in a False Document how-to for worldbuilding, sort of a manual of worldbuilding from which the protagonist strives to order the cosmos to his or her liking. A classic Aristotlean tragedy would have a final outcome of failure to change the cosmos, but in the process coming to an accommodation with the real world. A classic Aristotlean comedy would have a final outcome of success changing the cosmos, yet nonetheless, in the process causing a personal transformation as well.
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Re: Fictional Nonfiction: Publishable?

Postby sierramcconnell » 21 Feb 2011, 08:18

If you have more fun world building than writing a book, I suggest you join a team. :)
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