Fact or Fiction? A Creative Nonfiction Essay by Kathryn Dover

Everyone struggles at some point to distinguish fact from fiction.

When you’re a young book-and-movie lover, distinguishing between fact and fiction is a challenge. I didn’t fully understand that movies aren’t real until I was about ten. For years, my brother tried to convince me that Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader in Star Wars are the same person. With the support of friends, he would argue this point incessantly, yet I just could not comprehend it. When we played on our Wii, I could be Anakin Skywalker, and my brother could be Darth Vader at the same time. Therefore, they could not be the same person.

Even after watching Return of the Jedi with the scene where Luke Skywalker says to Darth Vader, “I know you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father,” I still didn’t understand how Anakin Skywalker transformed into Darth Vader. I think that was because my mother would not let me watch the ending of Revenge of the Sith, where Anakin makes his transformation, because she feared it might scare me. When I was finally old enough, we watched that scene, and for the first time, it clicked for me that Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are the same person. My brother was right, and I admitted my error.

At the same time, my brother struggled to convince me that Star Wars wasn’t real. When I was about eight, I told a friend that Darth Vader and Yoda were real, that my brother was friends with them, and that I was worried he might turn to the Dark Side. She laughed at me—understandably so—but it really hurt my feelings. I think what I really wanted was proof that they weren’t real. Only then would my imagination rest. I thought I could travel to another galaxy and meet Darth Vader—I just had to find a portal. My Amazing Book of Facts said there were other galaxies besides the Milky Way—that was all the proof I needed.

Is Anything Ever Original?

When I wrote my first play, my greatest struggle was naming my characters. I finally named my female protagonist Robin Williams. I have no idea how I came up with that name. One night at dinner, my parents mentioned someone named Robin Williams. I dropped my fork—could it be my character had come to life? Even at eleven-years-old, I had to convince myself my character wasn’t real.

To further complicate this project, my play needed a title. I hate titles almost as much as I hate names—they have to be just right and completely original. After much deliberation, I settled on one: Holes. Now, what significance that had to the plot, I can’t remember now.

Within days of my title selection, my mother and I stood looking at shelfs of books in the library. She pointed one out: “Don’t you remember hearing about that in school?”


            You have got to be kidding me!

I thought and thought, but I could not remember hearing about it. Just because I didn’t remember it didn’t mean that I didn’t hear about it. My “original” title was really a copy of a book I had heard about, buried in my memory.

Is anything ever original? Was my title an original idea?

Autobiographies—the Fact Behind the Fiction

These examples can be discarded as part of childhood—a phase we all go through growing up.

A year or so ago, I purchased an autobiography of one of my favorite children’s book authors: Beverly Cleary. Surely someone who writes such incredible children’s stories had to have a similarly incredible story herself. But as I read, I was abhorred by Cleary’s life story. She grew up in a terrible home environment, and what bothered me was her attitude towards her past. Her “that’s life” style surprised me even more—it was not what I expected from reading her Henry Huggins series. In her autobiography, she seemed to take pride in her terrible past.

I never finished the book. Cleary hides behind a wonderful façade of fiction, and I take a different outlook towards her work after seeing a glimpse of her reality. It destroys the image of happy-go-lucky Ramona Quimby and her wonderful childhood; indeed, where on earth did Cleary get inspired to create such a character if not from her own life? Her autobiography shows no passion for writing, no passion for her characters, no connection between her fiction and her reality.

My Conclusion

But why do I still struggle to distinguish fact and fiction? I think the answer is that they are linked.

Every fiction piece ever written is based on facts—they are inseparable. I wonder: if a character is based on a real person, is he fact or fiction?

Is this essay fact or fiction?

What do you think about the similarities and differences between fact and fiction? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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