For the first myth, we’re looking at one of my favorites, a myth I often hear from people who know me. Why they feel the need to say the following things to a fiction writer, I’m not sure. (I don’t poopoo their pursuits, after all.)
“Fiction is a waste of time. I’d rather improve my brain by reading nonfiction.”
“I don’t want to invest time in reading fiction, because it doesn’t do any good. Reading nonfiction will make me a better person.”
These are simply myths. Myths, I say!
As for the idea that fiction is somehow less edifying or worthwhile than nonfiction…. Well, there’s really no good argument to support that point of view. Let’s begin by looking at nonfiction.
I won’t bash nonfiction. Nonfiction is great, and I read a lot of it. Nonfiction teaches the facts and shows us the world as it is. That, after all, is the job of nonfiction – to convey fact or to convey opinion that is based in fact. But if you only ever read nonfiction, you will only ever see the world as it is; you will never learn to see the world as it could be. Creative innovation requires that you exercise the creative part of your brain. In the same way that doing logic puzzles keeps the left side of your brain sharp and ready, reading fiction - and thereby forcing your brain to picture something different and new - keeps the right side strong.
Do you want to be a creative problem solver? Then you must learn to strengthen both sides of your brain. Otherwise, you may be able to solve problems, but you won’t be able to do so in truly innovative ways. You’ll tweak what other people have already done; you won’t come up with an entirely new concept, because the atrophied creative portion of your brain won’t let you.
It’s important to read nonfiction and get the facts, but it’s equally as important to learn to interpret facts in a variety of ways, to open yourself up to different ideas and to seek truth – which is often conveyed more aptly in fiction than in nonficion.
And while we can learn about virtues and intentions from real life, we can sometimes more easily learn about who we want to be and how we want to act from fictional characters. In real life, stories don’t always end with amazing hope, the bad guy sometimes wins and the good guy sometimes irreparably screws up the situation. Fiction, on the other hand, teaches us by showing us how things ought to be, how people ought to act and vice versa.
We witness a character's decision-making process, as well as the outcome of the character’s decisions and actions, but we don't have to suffer through any consequences. We can learn from a character's mistakes instead of making our own (sometimes). We can see how one good decision can lead to another, or how one bad decision can lead to a downward spiral... and all in 80k words. Through fiction, you can live through several lifetimes of decisions and consequences, without anyone ever dying, being hurt or losing loved ones. And through these fictional characters and their fictional lives, we learn about the value found in virtue, and we see the negative consequences that accompany iniquity.
Furthermore, fictional characters force us to examine ourselves and confront the potential hero and villain inside. The good guy saves the day, and we say, “I hope I’d be that brave, if I were ever in a similar situation.” The bad guy deceives all those around him, and it makes us think, “I never, ever want to be like that.” We learn that perception is often at least as important as reality and that things are not always what they seem.
If you want to learn about the world and understand it, you have to invest time in reading nonfiction, in concentrating on facts and reality. This is vital for everyone. Furthermore, I’m a firm believer in the adage, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” If you don’t know about what has been and what is, you cannot hope to spot the same mistakes as were previously made when they start popping up in the future. However, if all you can do is identify those mistakes, your knowledge is useless. You must learn to use your creativity in order to find solutions and to seek out innovative ways to avoid making the same mistakes.
So to those who believe that fiction isn’t edifying, I’d say this. When the zombie apocalypse inevitably occurs, my fiction-forged creativity will allow me be a creative problem solver, join the good guys and live another day. Can you say the same?
(Then again, I might just think that and say something more intellectual…like a few tidbits from the rest of this blog entry…)
What do you think of fiction? Is there any merit in it? Or should we throw out all the fiction and focus only on the memoir of the month?