This is the hypothesis:
The work is inspired by real events. The person listed as the author is really just the literary agent for the character who wrote it. For some undisclosed reason, all involved want the truth of the story to be kept a secret.
This is a thought experiment that occurs in many fandoms — that the series in question is a Dramatization. The theory goes something like this: While the fan accepts that what he is watching is a television show (or book, etc.), he theorises that the events portrayed happened. Essentially, the fan surmises that the story is a covert re-telling of real events. Fans will sometimes claim to believe this wholeheartedly, even though it is more often just Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
Following from this the theory normally takes one of two routes:
Dramatization: The writers of the series are demoted to the roles of literary agents or ghostwriters for the characters. They are charged to transcribe their adventures, tasked to make only such changes to actual events as are required by the practicalities of the medium and to protect the confidentiality of those involved. Which is to say, "The story you are about to hear is true: only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.". In this version the characters whom the story is based on essentially want their story told but don't want anyone to know that they were involved.
Loose Retelling: For whatever reason the creator has taken someone else's story and retold it in a way that won't come back to them and won't be recognised as real. This point of view is a middle-ground between supposing what we see on-screen is absolutely real and admitting that it is just fiction. It may be claimed that several stories have been mashed together and certain people have been merged into single characters.
Literary Agent Hypothesis opens up a huge range of fannish possibilities. Perhaps the most important of these is that we can easily dismiss small continuity errors: the literary agent just cocked up a bit. It also allows us to easily dismiss certain production elements, such as a Special Effect Failure or The Other Darrin, or, most especially, the Translation Convention: it didn't "really happen that way", but it's a convenience for the production crew and an Acceptable Break from Reality. Without this notion, it's difficult to talk about how it really happened as, strictly speaking, it didn't really happen at all. This is often invoked when a visual effect is changed by the production team: the phasers didn't really change colour, the filmmaker has just worked out a more accurate way to depict what they always looked like.
While this line of thought has advantages for speculation and is somewhat less silly than supposing that what we are watching is real, it walks a fine line: beyond excusing production mistakes, this hypothesis is occasionally extended to allow for Fanon Discontinuity, supposing that the parts we don't like are the bits that are outright fabrication, and therefore allowing us to discard them. Within fantasy gaming circles, this is also the distinction between "Lore" and "Canon": "lore" assumes certain facts are mostly historic interpretations and beliefs — much like Real Life — making them more easily subject to change, while "canon" is inarguable (read: uninteresting), constricting to creativity and vulnerable to Ret Cons.
This notion has always existed in some fashion, but as an explicitly stated thought experiment, it originated with and is still most closely associated with Sherlock Holmes fandom. Some Speculative Fiction series take this a step further, lifting a page from quantum mechanics and postulating that all works of fiction are reflections of various Alternate Universes somewhere in a multidimensional meta-space-time. Often, this will be revealed during a trip by the characters to (or from) the "real" world.
In 18th centuries, novels were often disregarded, and some authors tried to pretend that the book was not only inspired by real events, but that it was a record they found rather than something they made up. Parodied in Dangerous Liaisons, because at this time it became too obvious. Robert A. Heinlein's novel The Number of the Beast revolves around this idea, and he coined the term "The World as Myth" to describe it. It is a kind of metafiction known as "transfictionality".
This trope is not to be confused with:
School Rumble often reads like a Big Fish version of the author's life. The manga that Harima works on are probably just jokes at the expense of stories the author has written, the unrealistic points of the normal story could simply be exaggerations His boss was intimidating, so he was 20 feet tall... The same could be applied to other characters who were very tall or even changed size, such as Tennouji.
Dragon Ball: Son Goku was once interviewed by Shonen Jump.
In The Verse of Haiyore! Nyarko-san, the Cthulhu Mythos was based on stories told to H.P. Lovecraft by aliens claiming to be gods. The main character is called Nyarlathotep (Nyarko for short), and is a Nyarlathotepian alien, but insists she isn't the same one Lovecraft wrote about (though she does claim to have pretty much all of of his abilities, like 1,000 forms).
Queen's Blade has a very odd version of this trope, depending of the adaptation:
In the original gamebook adaptation, it's heavily implied the whole saga is told from the point of view of Hans, who in Real Life is the collective Word of God for Hobby Japan, the creators of the franchise. In the animated adaptation, the Head Archangel, who is Nanael and Hachiel's boss, took his place instead.
In Queen's Blade Grimoire, the newest continuity of the franchise, the whole plot is told from the POV of a grandmother who tells the story to her granddaughter. This is justified in-universe, since the whole continuity is based in many classical fairy tales, and the whole story is told like one.
A surprisingly popular fan theory about the Haruhi Suzumiya series (which makes quite a large presence on our very own Wild Mass Guessing pages) is that the events portrayed are nothing more than an embellished retelling of author Tanigawa Nagaru's actual high-school experience, with all the supernatural happenings just added so that the series is distinguishable from all the other Slice of Life light novels and anime series out there. Of course, there is no evidence in the novels or anime whatsoever that this speculation is correct; it was probably inspired by the facts that Tanigawa refuses to reveal the real name of his First Person Narrator, that the unnamed city in which the events take place is described in just enough detail as to unmistakably be his hometown, and that he was, in fact, in a literature club back in high school.
Episode I: The real story? is a fic (originally in Russian) about how the Star Wars films are actually made for show distortions of real events, and it's very risky to use them as actual sources. Then it shows (as much as possible; sources are sketchy) what the events of "Episode I" really looked like before Hollywood Tropes were applied. For starters, Naboo was too remote a planet for taxing disputes - the dispute was actually over properly dividing the profits from a local animal's venom, apparently a drug for Hutts. A few things (like Obi-Wan defeating Maul) do look a bit more plausible than in the movie.
Cult ClassicJake Speed is built around the notion that pulp novel heros like Mack Bolan, Doc Savage, Remo Williams, and the eponymous Jake Speed are all real; it's the authors that are fictional. (They use the proceeds from the novels to fund their adventures.) The hero even has a ghostwriter for a sidekick.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Dedicated fans use the conceit that Conan Doyle was merely Dr. Watson's literary agent, from whence comes the name of this trope. So basic to the Sherlockian fandom that you can go to a meeting of Sherlockians and never hear Conan Doyle referred to by any other name than "The Literary Agent".
But note that Dr. Watson himself claims this to be the case — and who are you going to believe: a real-life doctor and veteran of the War in Afghanistan (three thousand years and counting!), or some obscure literary agent?
Likewise it's been suggested several times that Nero Wolfe was a real person and Archie Goodwin was making cash on the side by selling their case records to Rex Stout (and the reason why Wolfe only seems to solve murders is because they sell better than plain old theft or corruption). This is especially appropriate since Wolfe was allegedly inspired by Sherlock Holmes and has been accused of being related to him in some way (either his actual son by Irene Adler or as his nephew by his brother Mycroft, who Wolfe greatly resembles).
George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series blurs a number of lines. The title character is lifted from a Victorian novel (along with at least two supporting characters), and occasional supporting characters are lifted from other works of fiction (notably Colonel Sebastian Jack Moran and Sherlock Holmes himself), but most characters are from actual recorded history (minor characters are often invented by Fraser). Despite Flashman's life story being preposterous, the conceit worked well enough that (according to a 1969 article in Time magazine), at least 10 American reviewers of the first novel thought it was an actual autobiography.
Taken even further in one novel set shortly after the publication of Tom Browns School Days, in which Flashman is outraged by the portrayal of himself therein and sues Thomas Hughes for libel.
The Great Gatsby features what would seem to be a mistake when the narrator talks about "the events of two years ago" when he's meant to be relating the story of only one year ago. However, some hypothesize that the extra year was deliberately written in to give the impression that the character spent that time writing and publishing the book.
The Time Ships, a sequel to The Time Machine by Stephen Baxter, implies that the Time Traveller told his story to H. G. Wells who then created a fictionalised version. Wells himself wrote the story from the first person and numerous other works have run with the idea that The Time Machine is H. G. Wells's own story and depict him as an actual time traveller (cf Time After Time, Lois and Clark). In the 1960 movie adaptation of The Time Machine, the Time Traveler is referred to as "George". However, the time machine's date indicator plate clearly reads "Manufactured by H. George Wells" meaning the Time Traveller's name is...H. G. Wells.
Steve Hockensmith's mystery/Western Holmes on the Range (about a cowboy who is inspired to take up detective work after reading several Sherlock Holmes stories) doesn't just play this card but starts off being Direct Line to the Author as well! The story itself uses the original literary agent hypothesis — it sets out Holmes as a real person, one of the villains is related to a character from the Holmes story "The Noble Bachelor", and it's eventually revealed that the book is set two years after "The Final Problem".
In his novels Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life,Philip Jose Farmer's claims that Edgar Rice Burroughs and Lester Dent were just the biographers of Tarzan and Doc Savage. He claims that their books were highly fictionalized and sensationalized and presents somewhat more mundane, but still sensational versions of the stories that correct various factual inaccuracies and continuity errors. For example, he explains that whenever Tarzan encountered a lion, a plains dwelling animal, in the jungle, it was actually a leopard and Burroughs exaggerated because lions were bigger and more dangerous looking. He also tries to explain away both characters' great strength and intelligence by claiming their ancestors were irradiated by a meteor, and that other relatives of Tarzan and Savage whose ancestors were exposed to that radiation include Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, and Bulldog Drummond. Philip Jose Farmer is in a class of his own.
Edgar Rice Burroughs himself used the Direct Line to the Author approach for Tarzan, the Barsoom novels, and much of his other work. This makes Farmer's approach that of representing literary agent material as a different literary agent. In the Barsoom novels, Burroughs went so far as to claim that John Carter was his beloved uncle.
T.H. White's The Once and Future King doesn't exactly include this; however, since he was basing his story much upon Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur, his inclusion of Malory as a young squire to Arthur who is entrusted with recording the events of the story is worth a mention.
Tim Lucas's Dracula novel, The Book of Renfield, explains that Stoker just cleaned up the original journals and such.
The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series by James A. Owen runs on this trope. The three protagonists are revealed at the end of the book to be J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and their friend Charles Dodgson. Their adventures bring them close to things like magic wardrobes and elven cities which they claim to use as inspiration. H.G. Wells acts as their mentor, having admitted that The Time Machine is an autobiography and he had a child with Weena. The second book introduces James Barrie, who personally knew Peter Pan. The most recent book has an undead Edgar Allan Poe admit that "The Cask of Amontillado" is not a short story, but an instruction manual he wrote for how to deal with his enemies.
Played with in Philip K. Dick's short story "Waterspider". The protagonists decide to fix a technological problem of their era by time-travelling into the past, the golden age of precognatives, and consulting with the precog whose paper "Night Flight" foresaw their very predicament: Poul Anderson. The reader eventually realizes that the "precog society meeting" is actually a Science Fiction convention—it turns out that all the major SF authors were precogs without realizing it, and were accurately predicting the future in their writings.
The Doctor Who Expanded Universe features a character called Professor Candy, who argues that the Doctor deliberately creates a show similar to Doctor Who on a number of worlds in order that no one believes he really exists.
This gets really confusing when Laurie King's Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli series intersect in The Art of Detection. It's a modern-day detective novel, which features, as part of the plot, and included in the book, a "discovered" Sherlock Holmes story... that happens to be a first-person B-Story, by Sherlock, during the last Mary Russell book. (Although if you have not read the Mary Russell series, you will make different assumptions about who Sherlock's missing "chronicler" is, and assume it's Watson. But the story is clearly taking place during Locked Rooms and it's actually Russell.) It's hard to figure out how this could logically work... King (who has a Direct Line to the Author in the canon of the Mary Russell books) either took a break from editing the Sherlock Holmes stories she was sent, to make one up set in that continuity (which is just incredibly weird), or she stole that story and published it uncredited inside another book as fictional fiction, when it's actually entirely true. What's even weirder is that, in the story, the police, and a bunch of Sherlock fans, are trying to figure out if Doyle wrote it, and none of them bother to include the possibility that it might actually be written by Sherlock himself. In a universe where he really exists, there should be at least a minority viewpoint believing that. This leads to the absurd conclusion that Sherlock is fictional in that fictional universe but real (but assumed fictional) in the real universe.
The licensed RPG for The Dresden Files is framed as being written by Billy the werewolf, with grudging help from Harry and Bob, as a coded manual for mortals to defend themselves from supernatural predators.
But then there's The Stinger at the end of one episode, where Drake walks in, says hi to "Megan", and asks where Josh is.
Doctor Who's main fandom wiki uses this as an official editorial guideline, as the Whoniverse is a gigantic pile of contradictions even before the Expanded Universe gets involved, and the articles are primarily written in an in-universe style. As a result, blatantly contradictory information about a subject will be written about framed in such a way to talk about differing 'accounts'.
The Silicon Knights remake of Metal Gear Solid, The Twin Snakes, had no connection to the original studio other than Hideo Kojima's supervision and the dialogue scenes, which were made from scratch by Konami. The entirety of the original title was rebuilt from the ground up including these new scenes, and while it was the same game in heart, it was basically made with a new brand of cloth. As such, the whole story underwent a bit of a genre shift, as the original game was a very deadpan action-suspense-drama account of a mission which takes place over a short period of time and was not apparent to anyone outside of the know. The remake, on the other hand, graciously exaggerates the narrative, featuring scenes in which bullets are sliced (with a vibrating blade, nonetheless), the protagonist super-leaps about 15 feet across a gap and onto a raised area, and a bunch of missiles explode in some cataclysmically unrealistic way. As a lot of fans of the series played both games within a half-decade time-frame, the differences were all too notable, and many have taken to break the two down, former and latter, into "how it happened" and "how it was told."
This theory is aided somewhat by the in-universe existence of the book In The Darkness of Shadow Moses, an account of the game's events written by one of your contacts in the game. Twin Snakes could therefore either be considered a reading of the book, or even a film or game based on that account. You could even argue that The Patriots had the film made with all that bullet time nonsense to make people believe it wasn't true.
Several scenes throughout the series note that soldiers are increasingly being trained to fight in Virtual Reality without any real battlefield experience. MGS2's Mind Screw finale explicitly associates the non-canon game Metal Gear: Ghost Babel with this practice, implying that it exists within the MGS world as a VR scenario.
This is also another explanation for The Twin Snakes; it's not a movie adaptation of In the Darkness of Shadow Moses, it's the VR training of the Shadow Moses incident Raiden mentions having gone through during his training before Sons of Liberty. The reverse can also be true. Flashbacks in MGS4 feature footage not from MGS1, but from Twin Snakes, implying that it may be the canonical version.
Perfect Memento is a particularly good example of this, as in the Monologue, Akyu outright admits that not only is the entire work a gross exaggeration, but the Youkai actively asked her to make them sound scarier: "I got a great number of requests from youkai, such as, 'make me sound stronger', or 'what do you think of this power?'".
Though it's not official, one popular theory for puzzling out The Legend of Zelda series's snagged-up timeline is that it is a legend, with details being changed with each retelling of the story of Ganondorf trying to take over Hyrule, becoming the monster Ganon, kidnapping Zelda, and being stopped by a certain green-clad Heroic Mime. Therefore, they say, there really is no single timeline — instead, each game is a kind of remake of the previous ones.
This also explains why details such as the appearance of monsters and the general layout of Hyrule are not remotely consistent between subsequent games.
Nintendo released a book called the Hyrule Historia, which features a timeline that lists the entire chronology of the series. Turns out the timeline splits in three.
At the denoument of Sherlock Holmes Vs. Jack the Ripper, it's strongly implied that Watson made up the "Hound of the Baskervilles" case, to cover up the fact that he and Holmes had actually been in London at the time, where they'd solved the Whitechapel murders. The in-game killer was Jewish, and Holmes knew that preventing an anti-Semitic bloodbath by outraged Londoners was more important than revealing the truth, so he had the man locked up in secret.
Sire is based on this concept; people like Dr. Jekyll, Inspector Javert, Jeeves and others are said to actually have existed.
Some technically-minded fans attempt to reconcile the exaggerated action of the Star Wars: Clone Wars miniseries with the films and Expanded Universe by explaining that the cartoons are in-universe propaganda created by a minor character from the miniseries. According to the official Databank, this may actually be the case.
There was an episode of Justice League where the League travels to a different world featuring some villains and superheroes that resemble those of Green Lantern's favorite childhood series. After some initial confusion, Martian Manhunter posits the authors wrote under "some sort of psychic link to this world" unknowingly. After finding the graves of his heroes and hidden wreckage from a war, he finds that the reason the series was canceled was because the bad guys won and most of the rest of the world is all just an illusion created by the villain.