How writing fiction helps us confront the uncertainties of life

None of us knows what the future holds. Writing fiction is one way to grow more comfortable with the uncertainties of life.

None of us knows what the future holds. Writing fiction is one way to grow more comfortable with the uncertainties of life.

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.

RELATED POSTS:

How fiction is about the truth behind the lie

How my characters inspire me to improve myself

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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32 responses to “How writing fiction helps us confront the uncertainties of life

  1. Reblogged this on Confessions of a published author and commented:
    I love escapism!!!

  2. I think your argument can extent to art as a whole really, which seems to be marginalised in our culture because it doesn’t (usually) make a lot of money. That’s a shame and kind of ironic considering that one of the most important things that art does is to remind us that there’s more to life than the pursuit of money, and that we are more than just economic units. We really need that these days.

  3. Ah, I get angry when I read or hear comments like that… Don’t let trolls upset you. I think that people who feel entitled to deem fiction pointless and unnecessary are very sad people. And I bet they are also hypocrites who enjoy movies or stories of SOME sort from time to time, because stories are essential for us to process life, I suppose, and a way to actually process real life problems. Apart from that, I agree with arranbhansal: I love escapism.

  4. The answer to why read fiction — it’s fun! I wonder if these same naysayers feel the same way about their favorite movie or TV show. I enjoy writing the kind of book I want to read.

    • I do too!!! Like you say, writing the kind of book I’d like to read is fun. 🙂 My characters either represent something that I strongly would like to emulate, and wish I could be, or they represent a part of me I am trying to work through or develop or change.

  5. Great post, and so true. Fiction is much more important than people realise sometimes.

  6. Very true and I’ve had the discussion with a few people before. I point out that fiction allows us to analyze different aspects of humanity like friendship, loyalty, etc. It’s more about escapsim because that only works if you make things believable. Besides, the world is a rough place, so why do we want to read about it all the time?

  7. I like the fact I can say all the things I never could in real life. My characters are drawn from parts of real people or situations I’ve been in, in real life. all those raw emotions you have never really deal with comes out in your work. This is what they mean by write about what you know. Though I’ve never killed anyone in real life, I have felt like it. 🙂

  8. So true.Telling stories, either through pretend play or with stuffed animals, etc.,helps children cope with stress and makes them more emotionally stable adults. Telling stories helps them to work through situations and see how different reactions have different results. Same thing with grownups. We read a novel, see how a character’s decisions affect their lives and then learn from it. Going through struggles in fiction, and learning from fictional mistakes, is a safe and risk-free practice.

    Great post. So good I reblogged! Thanks!

  9. Just to let you know that I’ve nominated you for a Liebster Award, I love reading your posts!!
    http://arranbhansal.com/2014/04/16/liebster-award-my-answers-and-nominations/
    Enjoy!
    Arran

  10. I’m a little shocked that you had someone take the time to insult your craft and the thing that makes so many people happy or happier with their current situations. It’s interesting to think that someone who sets aside time to belittle something as specific as fiction is just as empty as his accusations.

    On the other, brighter, hand … this is a wonderful post. I often think about how fiction impacts other people and the way they use to to help themselves along. I know for certain that I do use books specifically to escape from a tough day, though I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    Some people watch TV. Some people read books. I can’t help but assume that one is better than the other.

    • I think books have the added advantage of giving the reader greater power to envision the world. We are part creator in reading in a way that we just can’t be when watching TV. And that gives reading a leg up, I think!

  11. I get caught up in what the character wants. How easily I let my subconscious, or is it my intuition, guide my writing. It is so fun. Even more fun than an Ouija Board. Silent

  12. If you ever get tired of writing, you could always go into therapy 🙂 This was deep, on several different levels.

    Thanks for giving me a new insight

    Rich

  13. Hi Victoria, I really loved this post! I once knew someone who felt that fiction was pointless. I could never really understand this at all. I think that fiction = imagination, and that we need this skill to have empathy for others. I’ve also thought a lot about history, and how history is essentially “non-fiction” but also requires imagination to connect with. I see a common theme in what I like to read the most – history (past), science fiction (future), and fantasy (alternate worlds). All of them are different from the “real world,” but they have made me think and feel and learn.
    Your thoughts on following the characters reminds me of roleplaying. Anyone that’s ever done a roleplaying game knows the challenge of rolling with the characters and not really knowing where the story goes. It can be scary and challenging, but in the end you are left with fantastic stories that you could never have planned. 🙂

  14. For me, fiction helps me express myself without giving myself away. Moreover people can identify and empathize with the characters as one of their kind. This is what I do in my new blog: http://www.storieswithoutborder.wordpress.com

  15. Excellent post! Fiction does prepare us for life as well as reflect what we think and believe about life. For a six-week workshop, I had the privilege of teaching short story writing to a group of women prisoners. I gave them prompts to get them started writing stories from their lives…with one special bonus they really loved: they could write the endings the way they wanted the stories to end, and give themselves some power to rewrite their hardest times.

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