A Case for Fiction

Do you guys like the new layout or prefer the previous watercolor calligraphy look? It’s more professional looking, but then again, it’s not as whimsical…not sure if I’ll keep it around.

The title of this post should really be: “Spinning My Wheels. A Case for Fiction”, but the strikethrough button doesn’t work for titles, so I fail in my attempt at showing my valiant efforts to stay focused. It’s pretty pathetic, but lately I’ve been feeling like my life is going nowhere (typical last-semester senior angst), so I hoped that changing my blog theme might give me a sense of purpose again…

*Looks at screen*…Nope, not working.

Ah, well. Nothing like the prospect of graduating to bring out the emo-kid in us all. :-\ Now, as much as I’d love to fret and worry all over the carpet, this is a blog not my blue argyle journal, so let’s talk about something with a more widespread relevance such as: Why read fiction?

If you’ve never asked this question, shame on you! After all, think about it for a moment. What’s the use of reading stories about stuff that never happened and people who never existed? Isn’t fiction essentially artificial and a half-deception? I draw this idea from the movie Galaxy Quest, which brilliantly suggests that acting and pretending is an acceptable type of lying because the audience knows it isn’t the truth. Some might say that our time would be better spent reading only non-fiction because it is “real” and practical instead of invented. Of course, I’m a novel-loving writer, so I naturally think that a life without fiction is not a life worth living, but why? What does fiction give us that non-fiction cannot? I think the answer to this question is closely related to the purpose of the arts as a whole: Emotional connection. Err, hopefully, I’m not presuming too much in that rather general statement about the arts, but I’ve given it a lot of thought and that was my conclusion.

I once read a psychology article that talked about how a certain chemical is triggered in our brains when we are trying to make a decision that gives us the feeling of “Yes, I should do _____”. When that chemical/emotion doesn’t function correctly in a person’s brains, it makes it nearly impossible for them to make any decision. So whether that chemical in your brain is more often triggered by a picture of a kitten or by a rational argument, even the most logical people use their emotions to make decisions and that is not a bad thing! My point is that humans are naturally emotional beings who absorb truth (and lies) best when it speaks to our emotions. How many times can you hear about starving children in China without caring, but the second someone puts a sad picture of one of those kids in front of you, it’s suddenly more real. That’s the job of fiction–to put the picture in front of you, or even better, to make you feel like you are inside the picture. It is true that some creative non-fiction can have this effect. When I read a biography, I feel as if I know the person its about on a more personal level. But biography and even autobiography doesn’t really let you inside a person’s head like fiction can. And more importantly, it cannot ask “What if?”

A preacher can tell us about the End Times and the anti-Christ, but for a lot of people it was all hypothetical and hazy until they read The Left Behind series and had to struggle alongside the characters. Of course, nobody knows if that’s actually how the future is going to be, but fiction is allowed to speculate in a way that non-fiction isn’t. We can’t properly fear or desire a world that we haven’t experienced and fiction is a way of test-driving possible worlds so we can either try to avoid making ours like the model or strive to mold ours into its likeness.

There’s a LOT more to say about this, but I think I’ll stop there. If for some reason, this post freaks you out because now you think that authors are all trying to manipulate your emotions, relax! Everything is manipulating your emotions in some way, not just authors, and as long as you’re aware of it and keep your mind engaged, you’ll be fine.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Keira
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 18:15:21

    I love this post, especially the Galaxy Quest reference—which reminds me that I need to re-watch that movie.

    I agree that it is definitely the emotional connection that makes fiction so important, no—necessary. We learn how to react to certain types of situations when we read fiction. Just because something seems improbable in reality doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the emotion. The emotion is still there and we will encounter it again in our real lives.

    So, thank you. Very well-said.


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