Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Why I Love Fiction

I remember being so proud the day my first-grader came home from school and was able to explain to me the difference between fiction and non-fiction, fact and opinion.  She grinned toothily as she recited the answers she’d been taught.  It’s a milestone; being able to distinguish between reality and imagination is an important developmental skill.  However, facts don’t really need their praises sung.  They’re just there, and although the details may be plenty disputed, they are still facts.  Okay, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would argue me passionately on this point--I myself may be one of them, given a different state of mind--but what I really want to talk about right now is fiction.  Although we’re taught in school from a young age that fiction is, by its very nature, untrue, I believe the opposite.  Hearty fiction depends entirely upon the exposition of deep truth.  I know people who only read non-fiction.  Please do not hear me say that there is no value in this.  I read non-fiction, too.  But fiction gives us an invitation to explore an issue from a different angle, or to identify so strongly with a particular character that we can’t help but come away from a book with a new viewpoint.  Want to be persuasive?  Write fiction.  Want to change the world?  Write fiction. 

At this point in history like no other, with answers to our factual questions so readily at our fingertips, we are so tempted to rely upon facts alone as we perpetually refine our worldviews.  The way we understand an event is by absorbing who was involved, what happened & when it happened & where, and maybe also why or how it happened.  But this isn’t understanding; it’s knowledge.  And I’m not saying knowledge doesn’t have its place.  It most definitely does, and it’s a good start.  But to really understand a subject, you have to live it.  And that’s where fiction comes in.  It gives us a glimpse into history, or the present, or the future, or a what-if scenario, and allows us to adopt the perspective of someone who is directly involved in the action.  Fiction allows us, as readers (and writers!), to set aside our preconceived notions of the way something should be or the way something is.  It enables us to set aside what we know in order to learn what we don’t.  And we can’t help but come away from the encounter unchanged.  ***