One of the most common arguments against reading fiction (and especially writing it!) that you’ll hear goes something like this:
- What is the point? Isn’t the real world interesting enough?
- Fiction is just escapism. Live your life.
- Fiction has no real value. It’s pure distraction from real problems and issues.
Now, I don’t think any writer (or person who understands the value and importance of story to human nature and to human beings) thinks that we should lose ourselves completely in fiction and devote our lives entirely to it.
That said, it saddens me when people make comments like those above. Fiction does SO MUCH for us as people who live and move and contribute to the real world.
For one, writing increases our capacity to empathize. It makes us more aware of other people and their struggles.
Writing can be a form of therapy, allowing us to externalize and thus more easily confront our personal demons and struggles. Analyzing our “monsters” from outside ourselves can make them less frightening, enabling us to take action against them.
It can shed a light on how much we truly have and how blessed we truly are, making us feel grateful rather than entitled or disappointed and impressing us with the fact that we are only one among many (unique and irreplaceable as each of us is.)
For those of us who write, fiction can also do something more, which is what I want to discuss today: It can help us come to terms with how uncertain life is, and teach us to be adaptable and to make adjustments.
This is especially helpful and useful for me, because I have never been comfortable with change and don’t like when unexpected obstacles or problems crop up, as of course they sometimes do.
WRITING MAKES US “FOLLOW THE CHARACTERS”…. AND THEY DON’T ALWAYS GO WHERE WE WANT.
My personal approach to writing involves getting to know my characters and their situation, and then sitting back while I let them be themselves. I try not to force them to act in ways that are unnatural for them, but I ask myself, “Given what this person knows at this point, what would he or she do next?”
I understand that not everyone writes that way. But for me, it works. I don’t usually know when I start a story how things are going to end. There are lots of twists, turns, and surprises along the way.
And not all of them are easy to accept or to deal with. Some make me uncomfortable. I don’t always know where I can take one of my stories after this or that happens. But hey, if I know something’s got to happen, I write it and then I focus on the next thing. If I need to, I go back and tweak what I’ve written to allow for a progression.
Think of all the skills that teaches a person:
- To try to anticipate how other people will respond/act.
- To accept that we don’t, and can’t, know what the future holds, and that that is okay. We don’t have to.
- To adapt to unforeseen and difficult situations (problem-solving)
- To avoid worrying about “tomorrow” so you can focus on “today”
Writing fiction does teach us these things. Sure, there are occupations and hobbies that force people to confront the limitations of the human condition in a physical, tangible way. Writing forces us to confront the limitations of the human condition psychologically.
That has its own value and its own purpose. It is a good thing. A healthy thing.
I’m not really sure why I wrote this today…. A comment a while back on an older post of mine got me thinking about this.
I just know I’ve had a troll on Twitter before attack me repeatedly about how pointless and worthless fiction is. To the point that I had to block that person. I think every writer faces that kind of attack from time to time, and it can be disheartening and discouraging if we don’t understand why that point of view is oversimplified and essentially flawed.
Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this Fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”
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