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Fictionality, Narrative Modes, and Vicarious Storytelling.

One of the key issues in the interplay between artistic and everyday narrative practices is the question whether some modes of telling are specific or exclusive to one or the other. Whereas in contemporary narrative studies it is a commonplace to understand everyday oral narratives as a prototype of all narrative forms, the traffic from artistic, fictional narratives toward everyday storytelling has received much less attention. However, socionarratology, for example, reminds us of the cultural and conventional basis for all human interaction and narrative sense-making. In 1999, David Herman postulated this integrated, narrative-analytical approach which he termed socionarratology, a conceptual model that "situates stories in a constellation of linguistic, cognitive, and contextual factors" (Herman 219). Matti Hyvarinen ("Expectations and Experientiality"), drawing on the idea of socionarratology, points out how the expected in the form of generic models and cultural scripts shapes both literary and everyday narratives. Yet, he has also concluded that there might, after all, be significant differences in literary and everyday narratives especially when it comes to mind reading or mind attribution (Hyvarinen, "Mind Reading" 238). Jarmila Mildorf ("Thought Presentation") showed how storytellers may circumvent the problems surrounding mind attribution in everyday storytelling by resorting to other, more indirect means of thought presentation, such as constructed dialogue.

Fictionality, understood--among other things--as specific ways to represent minds in narratives also outside of fiction, clearly needs to be further studied. The signposts of fictionality are usually understood to include paratextual signals, the synchronic relation between story and discourse, the dissociation of the author and the narrator, and the representation of thought and consciousness (Cohn, "Signposts" 800; Grishakova 65). To offer a rough outline, one could say that fictionality studies today emphasize either paratextuality (e.g., Walsh, The Rhetoric), authors and their communicative intentions (e.g., Nielsen and Phelan), or narrative modes of consciousness representation; our approach falls into the last category (Hatavara and Mildorf). Since the last category is the only one to do with narrative discourse modes per se, that is what our article concentrates on in the effort to study the traffic from the fictional to the everyday in narrative means of mind representation.

We understand fictionality as a conglomeration of narrative discourse modes characteristic of generic fiction but not confined to it. This partly follows and extends the tradition of discourse-narratological studies on fictionality. Even though this tradition searched for "fiction-specific" narrative modes (Cohn, Distinction 2; "Signposts" 779), it is worth noticing that the possibility of expanding fictional modes beyond fiction was recognized from an early stage on. Dorrit Cohn pointed out almost thirty years ago that narratology was unaware "of the places where its findings are specific to the fictional domain and need to be modified before they can apply to neighboring narrative precincts" (Cohn, "Signposts" 800). Using a life story interview as our test case we identify signposts of fictionality, analyze how they function in a nonfictional environment and try to point out issues requiring further theoretical modification. In order to account for cognitive and contextual as well as linguistic factors of stories, and to do justice to the nature of life story interviews both as personal testimony and as a semiotic object, we introduce the term cross-fictionality to characterize a narrative where the frame of reference is nonfictional but the narrative modes include those that are conventionally regarded as fictional. Therefore, cross-fictionality denotes narrative features that are characteristic of fiction but are also able to cross to other narrative environments. (1)

We will start by going through some key questions in fictionality studies in order to sketch our theoretical and analytical approach, then continue with the analysis of the life narrative, and finally return to the implications of our analyses to fictionality studies. The term cross-fictionality will be proposed to further clarify the interchange between the artistic and the everyday in narratives, where fictional modes of mind representation travel outside of the realm of fiction and are combined with a nonfictional frame of reference.


When engaging with discussions of fictionality, it is worthwhile to remember the helpful distinction between "fictional" and "fictitious," where the former is used for the notion that something is related to or part of a work of fiction and the latter for the unreality of objects (Bareis 156 n4; Cohn, Distinction 3-4). J. Alexander Bareis wrote almost ten years ago that even fifty (now sixty) years after Kate Hamburger's (Die Logik) seminal theories "fictionality is very often explained exclusively in terms of fictitiousness: That is, fictionality is defined by its non-real content" (156). This confounding of the two terms is what we want to avoid by (re)turning the focus of fictionality studies to signposts of fictionality, and especially to those related to mind representation (Cohn, Transparent Minds 110,131). The step forward from the conceptualization as Bareis formulated it almost a decade ago is to understand fictionality not only as occurring in generic fiction, that is not as denoting a work of fiction, but as a phenomenon that can be found in other narrative environments as well, including documentaries and everyday storytelling (Hatavara and Mildorf, Narrative 25.1). Nielsen, et al. also extend "fictionality" beyond the realm of fiction proper; however, they do not place emphasis on narrativization as an integral element of fictionalization. We want to differentiate between instances where a statement simply represents a distortion of facts or even a lie and those where, through storytelling, the rendition of an event or events comes to resemble storytelling in fiction. From his rhetorical vantage point, Phelan (265) recentiy argued that "the broad generic difference between the rhetorical action of telling a nonfictional narrative and that of telling a fictional narrative" is as follows:

Nonfictional narrative consists of somebody telling on some occasion and for some purpose(s) what happened to someone (the teller herself or someone else) in the extratextual world, whereas fictional narrative consists of somebody telling on some occasion and for some purpose(s) what happened to invented characters, that is, ones who exist and act only within the textual world. (Phelan 265; italics original)

In this article, we challenge this distinction by showing how storytellers in everyday life may, through mind attribution, invent on "some occasion and for some purpose(s)" what happened to someone in the real world.

Our previous study (Hatavara and Mildorf) on the usage of fictionalizing techniques of mind representation in documentary environments-storytelling in a museum exhibition and as part of an oral history interview, showed that tellers in everyday storytelling situations attribute and represent the minds of other people. They use direct thought presentation and other forms of cognitive attributions, verbatim dialogue and perspectival shifts as part of their storytelling. In this article, we are interested in how the mind of another is presented in life story interviews. The question, only partially addressed in our previous article, remains: how do fictional narrative modes operate in nonfictional environments?

Our emphasis is on the use of stories about the experience of someone other than the narrator. These narratives of vicarious experience raise questions about the relationship between the narrator and the narrated, the teller and the character. We focus on the question of how the mind--intentions, feelings, experience--of another is represented in a life story interview. The fictionality studies approach has an advantage in the study of mind and consciousness representation since that field of inquiry--going back as far as Plato's distinction between diegesis and mimesis--has been central to literary studies at least since the study of the novel began (Cohn, Transparent Minds; Lubbock). Within this purview, the amalgamation of voice (who tells the story?) and subjectivity (whose perspective does the story convey?) in literary fiction becomes a relevant question for fictionality as well. We have previously demonstrated (Hatavara "Documenting Everyday Life"; Hatavara and Mildorf) that fictional narrative modes bring about a dual-voicedness; that is, they double or may even triple the subjective points of view present in the narrative. In this article we pursue the question further with the help of Richard Walsh's ("Person, Level, Voice") model of voice as instance, idiom, and interpellation, which enables us to study the rhetorical use of others' points of view and voices in life storying.

As we want to steer fictionality studies away from the discussions on ontology and authorial intention toward an understanding of narratives as interaction, we strongly align with Walsh's statement that "narration in its primary sense is never merely narrative transmission but narrative representation--that is, the semiotic use of its medium" ("Person, Level, Voice" 36). This medium is social in nature and based on convention, as demonstrated by socionarratologists and pragmatic linguists, among others. When it comes to our analysis of the voices and subject positions in the life interview, this model enables us to make a distinction between (1) voice as an instance, an act of narrative representation, (2) voice as an idiom, the discursive subject as an object of representation as in characterization, and (3) voice as interpellation, the representational subject position. These different voices make manifest the social constitution of language and narrative and help us to analyze how the teller in a life story interview represents vicarious experiences and the minds of others.


The narratives we analyse in this article are taken from an interview conducted with an American soldier of Belgian origin, subsequently abbreviated as N., who served in the Second World War with the Third Army led by General Patton. The excerpt is taken from the second of two interviews the interviewee gave in March 19, 2004, in San Francisco. The interview was conducted by high school students as part of an oral history archives project entitled Telling Their Stories, the aim of which is to collect the memories of Bay Area Holocaust survivors ( The interview is rich with narratives of personal experience, as one may expect in a life story interview. Interestingly, one also finds stories of others, which Norrick calls "narratives of vicarious experience." Arguably, narratives of vicarious experience can enrich interview narratives by including other people's personal stories and perspectives. The stories to be discussed here have a similar effect in that they broaden the scope of the army experience related by N.: he not only talks about his own personal experiences but also includes those of others, thus creating a sense of community and group identity.

For the purposes of this article, what interests us in those narratives of vicarious experience is the questions they raise about storytelling rights and authority, which are intricately related to the questions of mind reading or mind attribution mentioned above. As we shall see, these points are implicitly also raised during the interview.

The story about General Patton is initiated by N. himself when he says: "General Patton had a German girlfriend; in the end, that was really his undoing. None of you have asked me ever what happened to him." To this, the interviewer responds by dutifully asking the very question that no-one seems to have asked until then: "What happened to General Patton?" One can see here how interviewer and interviewee collaborate to create spaces for storytelling. N. then continues: "You didn't ask. I was surprised that nobody asked me, 'Well how did it end with General Patton?"' This story opening is already quite unusual as the abstract, that is, the preliminary summary of what happened ("General Patton had a German girlfriend ..."), is rephrased as a question hitherto asked by "nobody." The fact that N. repeats the same proposition in negated form three times ("None of you have asked," "You didn't ask," "nobody asked me") is noteworthy as it foregrounds what N. would have expected, namely that someone should have asked about General Patton. Thus, before the story is even told, N. already marks it as an interesting or "reportable" story (Labov), that is, a story that is worth telling in the interview situation. What is more, he positions himself as the appropriate reporter of this story about another man's destiny.

We use Labov and Waletzky's narrative clause typology and present the lines of the narratives in the numbered format in the excerpt that follows (full but non-annotated transcripts are made available on the oral history project's website).


(1) General Patton had confiscated one of those castles.

(2) The castle had a lady in it, a Baroness,

(3) and he became very influenced by this woman.

(4) She told him that the Russians are terrible people,

(5) and he believed her.

(6) When he met up in Leipzig with the Russian officers, he was very nasty to them.

(7) He in fact wanted to go right on to Moscow.

(8) Of course all of us were very upset about that because we wanted to go home,

(9) but he wanted to go on to Moscow,

(10) and he lost the command of the Third Army.

(11) General Eisenhower was forced actually to relieve him

(12) and he became a general of a Twelfth Army group, which had no soldiers in it, was just a paper army.

(13) He sat in his car--I will show you the picture of his car

(14) and a driver saw this,

(15) and he was called '"Blood and Guts'--his guts and our blood."

(16) The driver drove into his car purposely as an accident

(17) and killed him.

(18) That's how he ended.

What is interesting in this narrative is that two stories are intermingled: that of Patton's decline as a general in the American army and that of his actual death as a result of a car accident. Strictly speaking, then, Labov's story diagram including an orientation, which sets the scene, a complicating action sequence, where things move towards a climactic development, then end in a resolution, appears twice here. The first orientation section in lines one and two prepares the ground for a story about how a woman brought General Patton to his downfall by turning his head, which is elaborated in the complicating action from lines three to nine. The setting, even though it is related to real-life places, reminds one of a fairy tale setting with its "castles" (line 1) and a "Baroness" (line 2) in one of them. The "femme fatale" motif is also reminiscent of similar stories found in literature. As Elinor Ochs and Lisa Capps point out, storylines can be "influenced by stereotypes and conventional plot configurations of human experience" (201). Hyvarinen ("Expectations and Experientiality") also has noted the importance of generic characters as meeting points between cultural expectations and individual life stories. Yet, such "plots and typifications lend coherence and stability to lives-in-the-making, but also jeopardize the authenticity of the unique experience" (Ochs and Capps 201). This is especially true if the experience related is not one's own but someone else's.

The subsequent lines in the narrative thus render N.'s story even more interesting from the point of view of fictionality: not only do we learn about the general's actions but also about his disposition ("he became very influenced by this woman," line 3); his thoughts ("he believed her," line 5); his motives and plans ("he wanted to go right on to Moscow," line 9); and what transpired between him and the Baroness ("She told him that the Russians are terrible people," line 4), as well as between him and the Russian officers ("he was very nasty to them," line 6). The question arises: how can N. know all these things? Or, put differently, on which authority does he tell the story the way he does?

Some of the story's elements may be known because there might have been witnesses to observe the general's behavior or because he talked about his plans, for example. By contrast, story elements relating to interior states are more difficult to account for since they can technically only be known if the general himself spoke about his beliefs and feelings. Alternatively, they may be based on inferences drawn by someone who observed the general and his actions very closely. In fact, N. later in the interview concedes that it was not the general's style to divulge his personal thoughts to his men. Since N. himself obviously was not present at those moments when the general interacted with the Baroness (or with the Russian officers) his narrative at these points must be founded on one of three possibilities: (1) someone else (who remains unnamed) must have told him; (2) these story elements are based on what was generally said, for example, by N.'s fellow soldiers (some kind of hearsay or gossip that may or may not have been grounded in real observations); or (3) they are based on what N. himself assumed, watching his general closely. None of these options is explained by the story itself, that is, we do not ultimately learn who provided all this information. And yet, the way the story is told suggests that N. has full narrative authority here. From the point of view of subject positions in the text, N. provides an idiomatic voice for General Patton as a character in the military who falls victim to the lures of a woman and therefore loses his position of power.

In social interaction, we try to understand others by attributing mental states and dispositions to them. At the same time, to ascribe thoughts and motives, plans and actions to others is something we also regularly do in everyday storytelling. The reason is that we want to present the "characters" in our stories in a particular light while at the same time positioning ourselves vis-a-vis those people but also vis-a-vis our interlocutors in the current conversational situation. Even though such strategies may compromise our credibility as storytellers when looked at more critically they are part and parcel of what it means to tell stories as a form of human interaction. Anna De Fina and Alexandra Georgakopoulou contend that "stories are no more true and real records than any other discourse but are rather resources for more or less strategically creating authenticity in different contexts and for different purposes. More importantly, every telling is locally occasioned and ultimately shaped by the teller's current perspective and their relationships with the storytelling participants" (148). When looking at narratives of vicarious experience, the subjectivities involved are not only those present in the storytelling situation but also those embedded in the story. As certain types of characters, both Patton and the Baroness become objects rather than real subjects of their representation, which makes their depiction fall under the category of voice as idiom as Walsh ("Person, Level, Voice" 55) defines it: their voices serve the purpose of characterization.

Not only the vicarious experience but also N.'s own narratorial agency becomes unstable in the excerpt. N. seems to claim authority as a storyteller and authenticity for his story of Patton's end on the grounds that he was a member of this general's army. Thus, he quite emphatically refers to "all of us" and "we" in line eight of his narrative. In this respect, his own voice as the instance of the utterance is interpellated by a representational subject position of those who served General Patton. However, we may begin to wonder whether the story element of the Baroness as a "bad influence" corresponds to the "facts" or whether it becomes a way of "explaining" the general's inexplicable behavior regarding the Russians. By blaming the Baroness, N. almost exonerates the general from his bad behavior and reinstitutes him as a hero. That N. still considers General Patton as a hero is reinforced when N. inserts a parenthetical explanation about what the soldiers called their general ("Blood and Guts," line 15) into the second narrative of Patton's end. This epithet expresses admiration for the general's bravery on the one hand and the strength of the bond between Patton and his men on the other. Elsewhere in the interview, N. admits still feeling proud of the fact that he had served in the Third Army, this special force that was admired by everyone.

The second narrative that co-constitutes the story about Patton's end trespasses the boundaries towards fictionality even more than the first narrative does. Thus, N. does not follow the general plotline of an "accident" (this is how Patton's death is recounted in historical accounts) but instead remakes the incident into a "murder story." The verb choice in line 17 ("killed him") ascribes murderous intentions to the underspecified man responsible for General Patton's death ("a driver," line 14). Interestingly enough, not only the driver's intentions are revealed (he "purposely" [line 16] drove into Patton's car), but also his perspective at the very moment when the incident happened: he "saw" (line 14) that Patton was sitting in his car and then decided to kill him. The fact that this driver was an American soldier is only revealed after the interviewer asks for clarification: "Who drove into his car purposely?" N. continues his narrative by saying: "But he defended himself that it was an accident. He didn't know; he could see that it was the General's car, it was very clear." A number of linguistic items are noteworthy here: first of all, N. reports what the soldier had said in his defense. The sentence "He didn't know" can also be considered reported speech--however, this time cast as free indirect discourse (FID). This use of FID to render someone's speech is quite common when people take minutes in meetings or in news reportage. The account becomes more unusual, however, when N. once again assumes the soldier's perspective by repeating the verb of perception "see" in combination with the modal auxiliary "could," which points to the soldier's ability to recognize the general's car at that moment. He also emphatically claims that "it was very clear" that this was General Patton's car--as if everyone must have been able to recognize the car under each and every circumstance. Again, the question arises: how does N. know what the soldier saw or was able to see and whether the car was really as recognizable as he presents it here?

The sentence "He didn't know" as FID touches the core of dual-voiced-ness in fictional representation. As Walsh ("Person, Level, Voice" 51-52) remarks, FID has a privileged position in the discussion of narrative voice. It is also an amalgamation of the types of voices Walsh suggests: FID is a representation of the objectified voice of another, an idiom, but in a form which preserves the voice as instance to the overall narrative subject since it follows the narrator's perspectival marker, the personal pronoun "he." Our example sentence is not fully compliant with the form of FID, since the temporal markers follow the character's position at the time when he defended himself, that is, the driver using past tense to tell the incidence after the fact. According to Walsh ("Person, Level, Voice" 52), FID also involves interpellation, since the other voice present is a synthetic product, not an original (in modification). In our example, it is conceivable that there is an "original" voice behind the instance of FID: the driver's possible testimony, where he had said *I didn't know*. Therefore, the tension between the narrating voice and the character's voice is more a matter of the whole sentence structure, where the driver's claim is quickly refuted by the narrator. Even though the two personal pronouns "he" appear to share the same meaning they signify very different relations to the teller and the character in the instance: the first "he" denotes an "I" of a character, whose (possible) original sentence is given by the teller in modified form, whereas the second is the teller's direct claim, even if it concerns the character's perceptions in the past.

It is hardly surprising that the interviewer then asks: "Were you around then?," thereby implicitly calling into question N.'s storytelling rights. Indeed, this kind of "internal" perspective is strictly speaking only possible in stories of personal experience, that is, when the narrator is also the person who experienced the events first-hand. Even though N. did not himself experience or witness that moment, he tells the soldier's story with the authority of a first-person narrator. Furthermore, he adds his own superior "knowledge" on what the American soldier saw but did not admit seeing. To the question whether he had actually been there he responds: "Yeah. We were in Germany and this happened in Austria." Leaving aside the fact that the accident happened near Mannheim (which is in Germany), N.'s answer suggests not only that he misremembers the "facts" but that he even makes them up to suit the purpose of making general Patton's death more dramatic. Or he may be retelling the story in a way that has become some kind of "folklore" among members of this regiment. In this case, the narrative of vicarious experience would point to the function of community-building and in-group marking through "quasi-authoritative" or representational storytelling mentioned above--that turns out not to be as authoritative after all.

Later in the interview, N. recounts another story about how General Patton used his army to liberate a friend who had been taken captive by the enemy. Here, N.'s authority might be said to rest on the fact that he was a member of this same army. However, it is again not made clear whether he personally experienced the incident or whether he is retelling it from hearsay, that is, because other soldiers who had actually been there had told him about it. Still, one can see again how a "quasi-personal" narrative is used to create "authenticity" and to mark inside knowledge when N. says: "It's one of those stories that you'll never read in any paper."

We can conclude the analysis by saying that the narrative told by N. includes mind attribution in direct form, stating the feelings and desires of others. It also uses the subject positions and voices of others in versatile ways. What is more, these positions and voices present the historical personae more like characters in a fictional story following expected storylines. This is further emphasized by the fairy tale-like surroundings or the story including a castle. It is thus clear that the narrative makes use of fictional modes of mind representation and also utilizes story lines and generic models familiar to readers from fiction. Yet, the interview is part of oral history, since the narrator recalls historical events in which he himself participated--at least partially. To address the interesting observation that this narrative is part of oral history and thus essentially nonfictional in the sense of "nonfictitious," but that it still utilizes fictional modes of narrating, we return to our discussion of fictionality and propose cross-fictionality as a term to denote the kind of hybrid position our example illustrates.


We have shown in our case study of a life interview narrative that it offers the actual world as the frame of reference but at the same time employs fictional modes of consciousness representation and narrative design. Quite in line with our approach, early theories on the possible signposts of fictionality, such as Brian McHale's inspiring account of FID, maintain that some narrative techniques are not exclusively fiction-specific but typical for fictional discourse. McHale writes: "[i]t can be shown readily enough that FID has been common in newspaper writing,--and in journalistic or quasi-journalistic interviews and narratives--, in the end--FID, if it is not exclusively literary, is at least characteristic of the fictional" (282-83). This is precisely what our approach to fictionality wants to emphasize: features associated with fictional modes of consciousness representation are not confined to fiction, but can cross into and be utilized in other narrative contexts outside of generic fiction and outside the literary realm. Yet, it is imperative to maintain the connection between fiction and fictionality; if fictionality had nothing to do with the characteristics of generic fiction, why call it fictionality?

In this final section of the article, we relate our approach to fictionality to some of the previous ones delineated above. Also, we want to ask if fictional narrative modes may lead to other features characteristic of generic fiction to mark nonfictional stories as well. Oral history research has indicated the need to not only concentrate on the content of memoirs and other ego documents but also to pay attention to how something is expressed and why that may be so (Abrams 1). Therefore, the question of interpretation becomes crucial.

Mari Hatavara ("History Impossible") has concluded that one of the specificities of fiction--also when it comes to such partially referential genres as the historical novel--is the openness for several interpretations. Relying on Pekka Tammi's idea of how fiction may "teeter between mutually exclusive, impossible narrative options" (51) as well as Cohn's ("Discordant Narration" 309) argumentation that one should recognize the "two-mindedness" inherent in the interpretation of fictional narratives, we may see how the use of fictional modes of narration bring about this uncertainty in interpretation. This doubling or even tripling of intentional layers with the use of discursive mixes and perspectival shifts we have already demonstrated in a family story told as part of an interview and a story presented in a museum exhibition (Hatavara and Mildorf).

The use of fictional modes of representing embedded minds not only raise the question whether the message becomes opaque. The effects of the use of vicarious stories may differ greatly, depending on how questionable the storytelling rights of the teller become. Therefore, fictional narrative modes in mind representation potentially unsettle the unity of the message. Making claims about the feelings of others in small stories may or may not--depending on the receiver's willingness to accept this--work toward or against the rhetorical purposes of the speaker.

To understand cases like these it may be helpful--if ever--to coin a new term to distinguish our approach from the classical study of fictionality and from the more recent advances. From the classical tradition, exemplified by Cohn, we want to adopt the idea of signposts of fictionality as narrative discourse modes, that is, to regard fictionality as a property of the text. However, we do not understand fiction-specific textual signals to include the synchronic story-discourse model or the doubling of the narrative instance into author and narrator, but to concentrate on the narrative modes in the presentations of consciousness. From the more recent tradition, such as Walsh (The Rhetoric), we want to adopt the idea of fictionality as occurring outside of generic fiction and as part of serious language use, but we reject the claim that fictionality is not connected to linguistic features and is instead only a product of paratexts. As our example demonstrates, the context (and its attendant paratexts) for a story may clearly be nonfictional and still allow for fictional or fictionalizing elements in that story. Since we believe in the social and cultural nature of narrative's medium, we distance ourselves from approaches (Nielsen and Phelan) where the intention of the sender is understood to decide whether something is fictional or not. As narratives, like other semiotic objects, are shaped by social and cultural expectations and conventions, they cannot be mastered by the sender alone but are constantly negotiated and therefore subject to interpretation.

Based on these alignments and separations, we suggest the term "cross-fictionality." The rationale behind this term is that the stem of the word, "fictionality," refers to fictional modes of mind representation, but the prefix "cross" denotes the fact that those features are used in an environment where paratextual signals refer to a factual and documentary environment and that there is no separation of author and narrator. The narrative type we have studied is cross-fictional in the sense that the features of fictional narrative have crossed over from the realm of fiction as nonreferential narrative--a definition given by Cohn (Distinction 9)--to a referential narrative. The frame and the reference of the narrative are nonfictional, but the narrative modes used include those that are fictional--resulting in a cross-fictional representation, fictional discursive modes in narrative realms outside of fiction.


In this article we continue our discussion surrounding the troubled notion of "fictionality" that we began in our joint article (Hatavara and Mildorf). There and here we offer examples for narratives that assume a "hybrid" position when it comes to fictionality: the narratives are essentially nonfictional in the sense of "nonfictitious" as they relate to real-life (historical) contexts; at the same time, these narratives employ storytelling techniques one would rather expect in (generic) fictional stories. In the present article we focused in particular on the narrative "instabilities" that may be caused through narratives of vicarious experience--that is, other people's stories--since they raise questions regarding storytelling rights and authority in mind representation. It is perfectly possible to tell someone about what happened to someone else; it is less acceptable to tell those events in the way one would tell a narrative of personal experience in the Labovian sense, including evaluation, a personal viewpoint and a sense of what that situation felt like. Especially when it comes to the representation of thoughts and feelings, a story may always beg the question: how does the storyteller know all these things? This question is not, as a rule, asked of fictional texts, unless one pursues the question of unreliability in homodiegetic, that is, first-person, narratives, which are arguably modeled on everyday storytelling.

Based on our analyses it is clear that modes of mind representation characteristic of fiction do travel to other narrative environments also outside the artistic sphere. Our results also point to future areas of research where analytical models largely based on literary fiction need modification when applied to other narrative environments. Fictionality in vicarious storytelling and in a context where the frame of reference is nonfictional has features similar to third person fictional narratives, but with different interpretative effects. In fiction, an omniscient narrator may tell what remains unconscious to the character herself. In an oral history interview the teller may relate what the person has concealed, like the American soldier deliberately hitting General Patton's car. Whereas readers of fiction are used to believing in omniscient narrators, mind attribution in nonfictional contexts raise questions of authority and authenticity. As fictionality is a question of quality and not of genre, it needs to be studied in a way sensitive to the semiotic factors of narrative, and not confined to the authorial intentions or to the ontological status of the subject matter.

Our example of a vicarious experience narrative from a life story interview shows that even nonfictional stories may accommodate a degree of fictionality by using fictionalizing narrative techniques such as thought presentation or the presentation of dispositions and emotions. We introduced the term cross-fictionality to capture this phenomenon. More specifically, we want to use this term to denote instances of storytelling where the contextual frame clearly marks the story and its narrative environment as nonfictional (as is often the case in documentary settings) but where narrative techniques typically found in generic fiction still occur. In fact, our hunch is that this is more common than is generally acknowledged and that more examples can be found--should one be willing to search for those.

Mari Hatavara


Jarmila Mildorf


MARI HATAVARA is chair and professor of Finnish literature and professorial fellow at the Institute for Advanced Social Research at the University of Tampere. She is the principle investigator of the Academy of Finland project "The Literary on Life" (project number 285144). She has published on FID, (unnatural) narrative communication, ekphrasis, fictionality (latest in Narrative 25.1 with Mildorf), and the poetics of historical fiction and metafiction, and she is coeditor of The Travelling Concepts of Narrative (2013, John Benjamins) and Narrative Theory, Literature and New Media (2016, Routledge). She can be reached at

JARMILA MILDORF is a senior lecturer for English language and literature at the University of Paderborn. She is the author of Storying Domestic Violence: Constructions and Stereotypes of Abuse in the Discourse of General Practitioners (2007), and coeditor of eight edited collections and special issues, among them: Narrative Knowing, Living, Telling (Partial Answers 2008), The Writing Cure: Literature and Medicine in Context (2013), Imaginary Dialogues in American Literature and Philosophy (2014), Audionarratology: Interfaces of Sound and Narrative (2016), and Dialogue across Media (2017). She can be reached at


(1.) The term "cross-fictional" has sometimes been used in philosophical discussion in the sense of "comparing the contents of two works of fiction, for example, 'Anna Karenina is smarter than Emma Bovary'" (Kroon 209; Thomasson 10). This phenomenon, however, is more often referred to as "transfictional" (Frigg 119). On the narratological use of "transfictionality" (Ryan).


Abrams, Lynn. Oral History Theory. Routledge, 2010.

Bareis, J. Alexander. "The Role of Fictionality in Narrative Theory." Narrativity, Fictionality, and Literariness: The Narrative Turn and the Study of Literary Fiction, Orehro Studies in Literary History and Criticism, edited by Lars-Ake Skalin, vol. 7, Orebro University, 2008, pp. 155-75.

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Author:Hatavara, Mari; Mildorf, Jarmila
Article Type:Essay
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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