"Do you know what I think?" she whispered. "When you grow up to be an author and write books, you'll think you're just making the books up, but really, they'll all be real, somewhere."
Sometimes, "this is a true story" is part of the fiction.
Once in a while a really well written story can feel so real that you begin to wonder if it might not be based on a true story. Occasionally this is actually the case, or supposedly so, but there are times when an author (etc) will go right out of their way to create greater immersion in their work by claiming that their very obviously fictional and fantastic world is in some way real. Usually they claim that they didn't come up with the story, rather it was recounted to them by the actual main characters (or some other witness), often physically, but sometimes by phone or magic. Other times they will claim that they found the account in the form of a diary and novelised it, or, if it is a film, that it is comprised of found footage or a mixture of found footage and Dramatisation.
Another common method is to claim that the book was written as a testimony (or confession) to actual events - possibly the most notable example of this is The Guild of Specialists Trilogy, which takes the love that boys annuals have for intricate diagrams and maps to its absolute extreme and fabricates not only a plethora of large diagrams, maps, and sketches, but photos and objects. In this version the author pretends they are simply publishing something that someone else has written - this often takes the form of a novelization of a diary or a set of notebooks. Other methods include accounts by secondary characters and so on. This trope a staple of children's books and fantastic tales, it often features an Author Avatar or even instances of From Beyond the Fourth Wall or other strangeness and may be said to be translated from accounts of what happened or books written by the characters and never actually communicated in person.
In all these cases, however, it is considered canon that the author is repeating a story that is in fact true, if only to a certain degree. One of the people the story is about may even be the author themselves.
Absolutely not to be confused with Literary Agent Hypothesis, when fans think that maybe the story is actually real, or like to think it is, but don't have any support from canon or Word of God. Also not to be confused with A True Story in My Universe, for In-Universe examples. Often ties in with Author Avatar and may involve an admitted Unreliable Narrator.
Anime and Manga
- An Omake for Cardcaptor Sakura suggested that the entire series had been filmed and edited by Tomoyo, and included her attempt to film and record the opening song.
- Yu Yu Hakusho also had the subtitle of "Ghost Files" or "Poltergeist Report" depending on the translation. It isn't until the second-to-last episode that we learn why. The narrator is George Saotome, the ogre always assisting Koenma, and with the new situation between the human and demon worlds, Koenma orders all of their video files to be documented. This explains the subtitles and narrations on ki attacks, and is foreshadowed by George and the narrator having the same voice actor. However, this is anime-only, as George doesn't exist in the manga.
- It's long been tradition at Marvel Comics that they weren't making stories up, just reporting what really happened. (To the point that they once showed a writer and artist very concerned they hadn't heard from their characters they "covered", and were debating what to do for the next issue. They reacted with absolute horror at the suggestion they just "make something up".) However, this was directly averted in a letter column after the Death of Phoenix in X-Men, when the editor wrote about the many touching letters they received about how much the story meant to some of the fans. Some people even sent flowers. And then, they started getting death threats over the story. To which the editor said, "I know we joke we're just reporting what really happened, but it's just a comic book. It is brightly colored ink on cheap paper that will decay to dust in two hundred years. It is not worth threatening anyone's life."
- This concept was firmly woven into the foundation of the Alternate Universe-laden pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of The DCU. At least one hero took his name from a "fictional" predecessor who (as it turned out) lived in a parallel universe, and there was a world known as "Earth-Prime" which was an almost-exact replica of the "real" world (until just before the Crisis, when it got its own version of Superboy).
- In fact, writer Gardner Fox wrote stories in which the superheroes from other Earths would narrate their adventures to him and editor Julius Schwartz and sometimes ask for their help.
- Fox fan Grant Morrison paid a somewhat darker homage to these stories when he wrote himself into Animal Man.
- The role-playing game supplement for the Legion of Super-Heroes explains the Zeerust technology of early Legion stories by explaining that of course the early Legion had Omnicoms and flight-rings, they just couldn't show them in 1960s comics because they were so far beyond the readers' tech-level.
- Alan Moore claims to have met John Constantine of Swamp Thing and Hellblazer fame in real life, more than once. We must consider three very distinct possibilities. Either he met Sting in a trenchcoat, Alan Moore is out of his fucking mind, or that he believes so much in certain things, that they become real and his sanity forces him to forget lest he obliterate himself.
- Starlord had the Starlord, who had arrived on Earth to warn humanity about the evil Interstellar Federation. The comic was supposedly a stealth training manual so that humanity would be able to defend itself when they arrived. In the last issue before Starlord merged with 2000 AD, the Starlord said that humans had absorbed enough knowledge to scare off the Federation, and so he was going to depart Earth and leave his readers in the capable hands of Tharg.
- Tornado was supposedly edited by one of its characters, a superhero named The Big E, who was trained by Tharg as a super-editor.
- Steve Gerber revealed in the last issue of Man-Thing that he was just retelling stories told to him by Dakimh the Enchanter.
- Buckaroo Banzai is allegedly a real person, whose adventures were related to author Earl Mac Rauch and then adapted into a movie. The DVD commentary runs with this premise, further claiming that some details have been withheld or altered for security reasons. It also imagines that merchandise related to the movie is in fact inspired by the hero himself, in an example of Recursive Canon.
- The Blair Witch Project billed itself as a documentary that included found footage. According to the movie poster:
In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary... A year later their footage was found.
- Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 has a titlecard that explains that a group really did go on a killing spree after watching the first Blair Witch, and the first Blair Witch is treated as fiction. "Book of Shadows" is a dramatization of these events, and "Shadow of the Blair Witch" is the documentary of these events.
- In that same vein, the film The Fourth Kind was billed as a dramatization of very real events, and containing alleged footage from the supposed incident. It was quickly discovered that this was merely a marketing ploy, and that the film was as factual as The Blair Witch Project.
- The Czech movie Year of the Devil (Rok dábla) is purportedly a documentary about a group of well-known Czech musicians, all of whom appear in the movie as themselves. However, as the movie progresses, it starts to get more and more surreal, until it becomes obvious that a lot (if not all) of it is actually made up. So Year of the Devil is essentially a fictional movie disguised as a documentary with real people playing fictional versions of themselves.
- The Princess Diaries is a rather unusual variation, this film adaptation exists in the world of the book series. Mia claims to have liked the film, but notes that it's a somewhat whitewashed and idealized version of events. With much prettier people. Of course, given that Mia is in the midst of some hardcore teen angst at the time, it's entirely possible that the film is more true to her life than she realizes.
- This Is Spinal Tap combines this with Defictionalization, with the cast doing interviews, DVD commentaries, and concert tours in character, and then denying it when speaking as themselves.
"Yes, Derek Smalls is a personal friend of mine. Yes, I've been known to pay his cartage fees. Yes, St. Hubbins has bummed stuff off me. So what?" - Harry Shearer
- In some episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, an immortal Hercules is shown adopting the identity of an actor named Kevin Sorbo and playing himself in the show. In a rare counter-example, Ares attempted to get the show cancelled.
- In the same universe, Xena: Warrior Princess is based on "The Xena Scrolls", as written by Gabrielle, and later found by an archaeological team in the 1930s who all happened to be Identical Grandchildren of the main cast. Joxer's counterpart left them to his equally Identical Grandson Ted Raimi, and the rest is history (well, it's as much history as anything in Xena is).
- Peter Schickele is a professor at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, and is most famous for his work rediscovering and popularizing the music of P.D.Q. Bach, the least competent of Johan Sebastian Bach's many children. So he would claim, anyway.
- Les Luthiers periodically "discover" and perform music by the fictitious composer Johann Sebastian Mastropiero.
- According to the official biography Rise of the Ogre, Gorillaz's creators Jamie Hewlett (cartoonist) and Damon Albarn (voice actor) are, in-universe, the band's director and producer, respectively.
- An important part of the Major Lazer "mythology" is the fact that the two DJs who comprise it, Diplo and Switch, are only allies of the eponymous character, releasing his music under their own names to protect his identity.
- Older Than Dirt: Nearly all myth and legend appears to be set up as a true story; The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Aeneid, the King Arthur stories...
- Averted in True History which, while written to sound like other works of its day, was intended by its writer Lucian of Samosata as a satire about them; he declared it was about "things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say."
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- The 1983 World of Greyhawk supplement was sketchily presented as a D&D adaptation of a scholastic game written by a "Pluffet Smedger" inspired by another work ancient to him; the trope wasn't rigidly adhered to, though.
- Material for the Forgotten Realms setting is often presented as having been personally rendered to writer Ed Greenwood by the wizard Elminster. The Volo's Guide series are written as in-universe travel guides later annotated (often grumpily) by Elminster.
- Greenwood also penned the "The Wizards Three" articles for Dragon magazine, which presented new spells for the Dungeons & Dragons game as notes written from meetings between Elminster, Mordenkainen (from the Greyhawk setting), and Dalamar (from the Dragonlance setting)... in Greenwood's own home. With occasional comments on fan letters and newsgroups, from Elminster himself (and once even from Mordenkainen's apprentice). Unfortunately, the effect was spoiled by an editor not stopped from "fixing" things by ignorance of the subject, that is being unaware that "dark elves" in Dragonlance are not the same as Drow.
- Dragon magazine used to do this all the time. Fun Personified Marvel Comics character Slapstick supposedly wrote his own Marvel Super Heroes RPG write-up, with the actual author claiming all he did was add "some semblance of grammar".
- The Castle Falkenstein books are allegedly written by Tom Olam, an acquaintance of game publisher Mike Pondsmith who mysterously vanished during a vacation in Europe; Olam sends documents to Pondsmith claiming to have been abducted to a Steampunk-plus-magic alternate world, in which he wrote the rules to the game using cards because the local nobility were scandalized at the thought of gaming with dice.
- Peter Spear's hint books for the King's Quest and Space Quest series were written this way. The former around the idea that a journalist named Derek Karlavaegen had discovered ways to "e-mail" stories to Peter Spear, and the latter around the idea that Roger Wilco had written his memoirs and sent them back in time to Sierra, who turned them into the Space Quest games, and the raw memoirs were the novelizations that the book featured.
- In Space Quest III, Roger delivers in-game versions of the creators of the Space Quest games to Sierra on Earth, with whom they presumably go on to make... the Space Quest games. So, even in the canon, Roger has met (and rescued!) his own literary agents.
- The copy protection of King's Quest VI is also attributed to Derek Karlaveagen. It is basically a record of his travels in the Land of the Green Isles, including some clues to solve certain puzzles (they were impossible to solve without the booklet).
- The first four Myst titles, along with the tie-in novels, are supposedly based (Tolkien-style) on translations of the character Catherine's journals. This is taken even further with Uru, the MMORPG, in which the D'ni cavern is portrayed as a real place - in New Mexico, of all places - being rediscovered by a team of expeditionary archaeologists funding their research by selling the rights to certain historical documents it uncovered to the game company Cyan, which used them as the basis for the Myst games.