Writing about things that are fake

My younger son’s class has been studying fantasy stories this month.  When I asked him about it yesterday, he thought for a moment and said, “Yeah, they’re stories about things that aren’t real.”  I beamed and said, “That’s what I write!”  He looked at me with a slightly shocked expression and said, “You write about things that are fake?”

Talk about a loaded question.  My mind raced with points I knew didn’t fit this conversation:  how technically all fiction by definition is about the non-real, how fiction writers tend to explore kernels of truth by defamiliarizing the mundane, how you’re more likely to see the significance of fakeness if you first understand the genuine counterpart, and how some argue that all writing can be considered metaphor if you dig deep enough.

Instead, I stammered something about using lots of imagination.  This seemed to satisfy him, and our conversation moved on.  A few minutes later, he suddenly blurted out a couple sentences about a ghost leading me to a dark dungeon.  I beamed once more and told him, “You just made up a fantasy story!”  He looked away with a shy, pleased smile.