Fictional Worlds

In a paper I wrote this last semester for an independent study class, I argue that fiction is an attempt to create an illusion of a possible world. Right now, I am toying with the idea that the experience of fiction is always that of imagining a world. The author is attempting to make the reader imagine a world that is both possible and interesting (as opposed to an impossible one). As an example, consider the following short story:

Jack and Joe are friends. Jack loaned Joe his car. While Joe had the car, it was stolen. Jack and Joe then set out together to try to recover the stolen car. …

We can stop right there. While not an interesting piece of fiction, I think we all can agree that the story about Jack and Joe meets all the necessary conditions of a fiction, whatever they are. And now, I’ll take a risk and bet that as you read my little story, you visualized two persons, a car, and the two leaving to find the car. What was it that you visualized? It was a possible world. There are many, probably infinitely many, possible worlds you could have visualized, but you came up with one. It is impossible to understand a piece of fiction, however short, as fiction, without visualizing the situation, ie. a possible world for that fiction.

The previously mentioned paper is called The Claims of Fiction. It deals with one way in which fictions can fail: by causing the reader to imagine an impossible world.

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