The ancients were clear about it. Whatever is not real, historical, is fictitious, from the Latin word fictio, and ultimately fingere, to contrive, to form.
History is shaped by the forces of history. Fiction is shaped by its author. In one we are passive, in the other active, storytellers, shapers of the narrative around us.
But fiction was never understood to be a lie. Fingere shares no etymological DNA with mentior, to lie.
To form a story, to craft a world of sounds and words, is not to offer opposition to reality, to history, but to enlarge them.
Mythology is enlargement. Allegory is enlargment. Poetry is enlargement. To extend the demands of truth onto fingere is to make a profound category error.
‘Based on a true story’. As though all other stories are based on… on what exactly? On imagination? A figment of the imagination, another blessed cousin of fingere, the word figment. And what about imagination? Isn’t the act of imagining, of projecting, of taking the raw light and shaping it into an image, a nugget of enlarged life, a personal commentary on personal or social history, or both?
Stories based on true stories are a limited enlargement capacity compared to other types of narratives. A study of the Iliad, for instance, as a narrative based on a true piece of epic poetry, tells us a lot about the Iliad, everything à la limite. The Iliad, however, pure fiction and pure contrivance, tells us a great deal about everything, about the human condition, the desires pulsating in all of us, about conflict and about forgiveness. It is a work of enlargement precisely because it is, as the Romans and those after them, including us, might say, fictio. Ok, I concede that the Romans thought the Trojan War wasn’t fiction, but you get my point.
To achieve fictional mastery is to create a universe which simultaneously points to itself and to what lies outside of itself. To what suffices for its own deployment, and to what transcends it. Unreality becoming more real than the reality it otherwise purports to reflect and represent.