A Fake Person in a Fake World Died, and Now I'm Sad by Tom Rich
"What's wrong?" somebody asks. "You look like your dog just died." The true answer is the title of this post, but I would imagine there have been many times when we've been loath to admit it. It's simply hard to explain how hard some books hit us; finish a really well-done story and you'll find yourself messed up and out of sorts for months, wondering when you'll get back to the place that seemed so real before, but fades away a little bit as the time draws on.
I ran across this situation when I was fourteen, and had more or less the above conversation with a friend, except I told her exactly why I was sad (the book, for the interested, was Dennis L. McKiernan's The Eye of the Hunter). "That's silly," she said. "Why would a book make you this sad? It's not like it actually happened." I didn't have a good answer then; fortunately, however, for those of you hoping that all of this is going somewhere, I suspect I do now.
The comic writer Alan Moore put it something like this: "the one place gods inarguably exist is in the human mind." That's equally true of stories (a similarity which, incidentally, Moore has noted). Regardless of truth or fiction or accuracy or fidelity or anything else, a reader reads, and whatever happens in their imagination as a result, happens. Sure, Sam never actually threw his pots and pans down a chasm to lighten the load as they climbed Mount Doom, but way back when a buddy of mine read about it happening and was out of sorts for days. It very distinctly happened; it just only happened for him. The story wasn't true, but the experience was.
The point can be broadened to something like "whether or not what goes on in a person's head accurately reflects the outside world, it does, in fact, go on inside that person's head." One may argue that God is real or not real or a three-tailed baboon, but it would be difficult to deny that the faith of believers is real (and vice-verso, of course, for the convictions of non-believers). It's one of the great gifts of fiction, the insistent and intrinsic reminder that each person's interior life is real and vast and important, even if they aren't "true" from some view-from-nowhere, neutral perspective. And it's one of the great powers of fiction; if you let it, it will change your life as surely as things that happen to you, because it did actually happen to you.
That's not the point of fiction, of course; the fiction is its own point. But it's a delightful side-effect. May your stories, true or otherwise, inarguably exist within and impact upon your readers, and, as always, happy writing!