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Literary Agent Hypothesis

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This is a thought experiment that occurs in many Fandoms — that the work in question is a Dramatization of real events. The theory goes something like this: While the fan accepts that what they are watching is a television show (or book, etc.), they theorise that events somewhat like it occurred in real life. 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, or even a Running Gag that members of the fandom try to take as far as possible for the fun of it.

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.

The 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 those fans to discard those parts. Within fantasy gaming circles, this is also the distinction between "Lore" and "Canon": "lore" assumes certain facts are In-Universe historic records and beliefs, making them more easily subject to change, while "canon" is a definitive statement regarding what happened, but can be seen as constricting to creativity and vulnerable to Retcons.

Similar notions are Direct Line to the Author (where the creator is the one claiming the work is a Dramatization of Real Life), Fiction as Cover-Up (where In-Universe fiction is published to cover up the bizarre reality), A True Story in My Universe (where characters are claiming that a previous version of the work is a Dramatization of In-Universe events), and The World as Myth (which supposes that all fictional universes are equally real, are accessible to one another via interdimensional travel, and moreover, that our universe is included in this). Compare and contrast Watsonian vs. Doylist, which takes an either/or approach.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • More than one Hetalia: Axis Powers Fanfic speculates that Himaruya might be doing this.
  • To a degree at least two levels removed, the That Is It, itself written and drawn by an author, implies that the K-On! series it was inspired by was written by Yui Hirasawa herself.
  • The OEL Manga Dracula Everlasting has the original work by Stoker as being a case of this.
  • Dragon Ball: Son Goku was once interviewed by Shonen Jump.
  • 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 Nagaru Tanigawa'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 Peripheral 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.

  • Ask Ernst Stavro Blofeld: invoked The classic Eon films are said to be fictionalized, but extremely close to the real events. The Daniel Craig reboot is the result of the producers being forced to make stuff up now that the real James Bond has retired and that Blofeld is in jail. As a result, it is completely wrong in terms of events and very inaccurate in terms of characters — Blofeld is particularly disgusted by his Motive Decay.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix and the Missing Scroll concludes with a post-scriptum that implies that the Amorican village truly existed, and the tales of Asterix's adventures are based on stories passed on through the generations by the Gaulish druids who verbally 'recorded' the narrative of Caesar's campaign against the village of indomitable Gauls, which René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo eventually picked up.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Buffalo '66: Encouraged by Word of God, the events in the movie were not what "really" happened but is Billy's perception of his own actions. Considering his low self-esteem, it makes sense.
  • The Country Bears: The DVD features point towards the original attraction being a result of the movie band's early success within their whole mockumentaries about the history of the band.
  • Mowgli: One of the characters is named John Lockwood, named after Rudyard Kipling's father. If he is meant to be the same person, it implies John survived his encounter with Hathi and will tell the stories of Mowgli to his son Rudyard who went on to write the Mowgli stories.
  • There are, in fact, entire web pages cataloging and debating how far this trope should be applied to Star Wars... sometimes to an inane degree (see Canon Fodder).
  • Stranger Than Fiction: Fans assume that the book Karen was working on would ultimately become this film.

  • 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?
  • 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 Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor is speculated, based on a number of things including a rather silly villain name, to be the basis for a holothriller(movie) or its novelization, written by one of the characters for the Star Wars Universe. The wiki has more info.
  • Allan Dean Foster does it in Quozl. The titular aliens meet humans, first a brother, then his sister. They grow up and the sister goes to work in TV. She turns the story of meeting the Quozl into a cartoon show. Her brother and two Quozl confront her and she says she was paving the way for a future reveal. How much of that is true, is left up to the reader.
  • Some people believe that JJ Benitez's series of sci-fi time travel books Caballo de Troya are based on real events.
  • The World of Ice & Fire is written in-universe by Maester Yandel, with excerpts taken from other sources.
  • Holmes on the Range: Exaggerated In-universe. Exageratted. Every detective story published in magazines, from Sherlock Holmes, to Nick Carter is presented as having been sold as factual memoirs (although many in fact are not, others are), with the Alingmeyer brothers publishing their own.
  • Monstrumologist: Rick Yancey is only the editor/publisher. The follios were actually written by Will Henry and Yancey is reading them in the hopes of learning the truth about the man who left them behind.
  • The City of Dreaming Books: This is (the first part of) Optimus Yarnspinner's autobiography, which Walter Moers merely translated.
  • In a case of the creator deliberately invoking it, Robert E. Howard used this trope to justify the Anachronic Order of his Conan the Barbarian stories. Howard explained that he wrote them as if an aged Conan was recounting stories of his youthful adventures to him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The only plausible explanation for the Celebrity Paradox in the Recursive Canon is that Drake & Josh is a TV show in The 'Verse of iCarly, Zoey 101 and Victorious. When Carly and Spencer from iCarly are watching Drake and Josh, neither of them makes any mention that the characters on the show are identical to them. Ergo, the in-universe version of the show must not have had Megan and Crazy Steve being played by Miranda Cosgrove (who plays Carly) and Jerry Trainor (who plays Spencer), but instead by two other actors. 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. Not to mention the Victorious episode where Helen comes up, she is still the little girl of a show and mentions Crazy Steve.
  • 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".
  • Garth Marenghis Darkplace is presented as if "Darkplace" was a real TV show in the 1980's that's now being re-aired. Tremendous care is taken to faithfully recreate the look of a low budget show from the '80s, all the way down to using an older version of the Channel 4 logo.
  • The series finale of Babylon 5 implies the show was a low-budget Docudrama produced by ISN several decades after the events depicted.

  • In the Cool Kids Table Harry Potter-themed game Hogwarts: The New Class, almost everything from Harry Potter is real, and JK Rowling is a squib who wrote dramatizations of Harry's adventures. McGonagall was the one who recommended Maggie Smith to play her in the films. More importantly, the players are all muggle-borns whose records were lost and never got to develop their powers.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age II: The game you play is explicitly a story that Varric is telling Cassandra, and Varric occasionally drops into Blatant Lies that Cassandra has to call out to get the real story. Because of this, it's commonly assumed that any oddities or Gameplay and Story Segregation is Varric embellishing his story in ways too minor for Cassandra to bother with. Enemies popping out of nowhere? He's just spicing up long-ish sequences where nothing really happened. Obvious magic use in mage-unfriendly Kirkwall? Look, it's more fun to say that Mage Hawke went around incinerating people with fireballs rather than bonking them with staves. His brother being a complete Jerkass while Varric himself is suspiciously patient? Varric is twisting things due to his rivalry with Bartrand, etc. Amusingly enough, Inquisition will actually have Varric called on this, as one of his readers will ask where all the enemies came from.
  • 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, no less), 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.
  • Touhou Project fandom often postulate the idea (jokingly or not) that ZUN acquires all the necessary information to make the games and supplementary material from conversations with his drinking buddy, Yukari. Any contradictions are therefore Yukari being deliberately misleading or ZUN forgetting a detail.
  • 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.
      • Even with a split, it is possible that the official timeline showcases the route the story has evolved rather than actual chronology. Skyward Sword would be the earliest telling, and the splits would then become different avenues storytellers took with the ending of Ocarina of Time.
  • A Primer On The Capture And Identification Of The Little Folk Of Myth And Legend: In-Universe. As the opening says:
    Whilst researching pixies for my short story, "Blue", I stumbled across an ancient-looking field guide at the back of a local bookshop. It was called A Primer On The Capture And Identification Of The Little Folk Of Myth And Legend. The cover was wrecked, and half the pages had fallen out, so I have no idea who wrote it. The author comes across as somewhat... eccentric. I found it incredibly useful though - especially the flowchart section at the back. I couldn't find any record of the book online, so I took the liberty of transcribing that chapter into digital form. I hope someone finds it useful!

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • 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.

  • This trope has become somewhat of a Memetic Mutation. People would jokingly propose "what if X is real", as though either the fictional characters were real or in some form, the story itself is real.