Determining whether a transmedia narrative is fiction, non-fiction, or a hybrid that includes both will have wide-ranging impacts on that narrative. Creating a fully fictional story will give the author a blank page to start with and allows all aspects of the characters, objects, events, and settings to be created by the author. The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are examples of fully fictional stories that have no links into the real world.
At the other end of the spectrum is a non-fiction story in which the storyworld contains real characters, objects, events, and settings. In this case, the author is responsible for faithfully portraying all of those elements. Journalistic works ranging from newspaper articles to television news programs are (ideally) fully non-fictional and can range in length from short pieces to novel-sized books like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.
Between the two ends of this spectrum lies a vast range of territory populated with hybrid stories. Some of these stories may lie closer to the non-fiction end of the spectrum where, for example, fictional characters are injected into actual events or settings. Historical fiction like Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series places a fictional character into meticulously researched events and settings during the Napoleonic Wars. Other stories lie closer to the fiction end of the spectrum. Star Trek, for example, has a vast fictional storyworld but retains some ties to Earth and a history that includes actual people, events, and settings.
If a hybrid story is planned, the author needs to determine which end of the spectrum will be dominant so the focus of the narrative detail is appropriate. No matter where on the fiction/non-fiction spectrum the story falls, information on real events, settings, and people needs to be accurate in order to preserve the narrative illusion created by the fictional components.
Alternative histories, in which the author creates a story that branches off of historical events (e.g. what if the South won the American Civil War or Germany won World War 2) appear to contradict the principle of historical accuracy. However, the logic of alternative histories maintains historical accuracy up to the point at which the story branches from non-fiction to fiction.
The rise of reality television over the past decade illustrates how the distinction between fiction and non-fiction has been blurred in mainstream entertainment (Fetveit, 1999; Mendelson & Papacharissi, 2007). Authors should consider how the mass audience’s perception of fiction and reality can be used in the design of transmedia narratives.