What Belongs in a Fictional World?

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture

Abstract

How do readers create representations of fictional worlds from texts? We hypothesize that readers use the real world as a starting point and investigate how much and which types of real-world information is imported into a given fictional world. We presented subjects (N=52) with three stories and asked them to judge whether real world facts held true in the story world. Subjects' responses indicated that they imported many facts into fiction, though what exactly is imported depends on two main variables: (1) the distance that a narrative world lies from reality and (2) the types of fact being imported. Facts that are true of the real world are more likely to be imported into worlds that are more similar to the real world, and facts that are more central to the representation of the real world are more likely to be imported overall. These results indicate that subjects make nuanced inferences when creating fictional worlds, basing their representations both on how different a story world is from the real world and on what they know to be causally central to the real world.

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