ON THE VIRTUES OF FICTION
A while ago a friend told me she was unable to read novels because she felt the events could never happen. This surprised me because almost everyone I know reads stories in one genre or another, but if the first rule, suspension of belief, doesn’t come into play then yes, you might find the fictional constructed worlds contained within books difficult to accept. However, reading is entertaining and beneficial. So here are a few reasons (I know there's plenty more) why people should read fiction.
Reading is an immersive process, where we enter into another world through our imagination. In stories we experience the struggles, losses and triumphs of lives other than our own. This opens the possibility of altering, modifying or even transforming concepts we hold about ourselves, our attitudes and behaviour. When we enter the world of what if, this allows us to become, however briefly, someone else. This enhances and enriches our understanding of life.
Several studies have shown that because fictional stories give us an intimate view of the main character’s inner life, this develops empathy. Reading about someone who comes from a different cultural, historical, or socio-economic background, and is undergoing a difficult experience we are unlike to encounter, deepens our comprehension of the human condition. Empathy is a quality not listed on any country’s school curriculum, but it should be, because it increases the possibililities of improving the lives of others.
Writing involves the use of metaphors, and other figures of speech, which work because they rely on commonly known phrases, which when placed in a new context result in the creation of strong images in the mind of the reader. These new associations expand the thinking process, encouraging flexibility and innovation. (I did once read that the creation of metaphors increases left/right brain integration, but I couldn't find the article.)
One criticism of fiction is that presents a simplification of life, along with the question of whether this is helpful or not? Do our lives follow a dramatic arc or have Hollywood endings? No. Life can be chaotic, it’s unpredictable, and the only thing we can control is our response. Yet there is a gratification in reducing the world to black and white, to good versus evil, because it gives us hope. And life without hope is miserable. Fiction shows us heroes, and while we may not view ourselves as heroic in our daily lives, we’re able to find examples of how fictional others survive. I mean who does not in some corner of their imagination admire how Scarlett O’Hara overcomes adversity?
Books can be friends and comforters, a place to escape to, because the theme, the characters or the setting resonates with something inside us. The pleasure gained, whether you enjoy thrillers about betrayal and revenge with complicated twists and turns or straightforward linear romcoms, means we come back for more.
I feel sorry for my friend, but let’s face it, if most of us didn’t enjoy fiction, there would be no writers, readers, books, or publishing industry. However, the latest developments in digital and online publishing show that even if the methods of delivery change and evolve, fiction remains alive and well.
I may have, after a number of changes, worked my break-up story, Cupid’s Game, into a form that satisfies me. Although I started with 3rd person omniscient, past tense, the story is now 1st person POV and told in the present tense. I haven't posted it yet because Wattpad has allocated the Parental Guidance or Restricted Content classification to the story, and I've requested they alter this as it’s misleading. There’s no sex or eroticism as such – only a look at the end of a relationship and the aftermath. Or maybe I'll put it up with a disclaimer? (Check it out...I have posted it with a message about the classification!)
Tomorrow I start back with Vance the Vamp, my WIP. Working on the Wattpad project (three short stories - including covers - and editing a previous nano effort) was enjoyable, but I’ve missed the absorption of the longer form of the novel with the slow rise of tension, greater scope for character development, subplots and setting. I’ll finish the final bit of research today, then, re-read here I come! Yeah!
Soya latte, small, to go –
sipping on the run
A brilliant article on reading by Neil Gaiman
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To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.
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