Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Gift of Fiction

Let’s set Uncle Scrooge aside for the moment. Stifle the grousing about how long writing a novel will take, how little money it will make, that it proceeds at a crawl, or that you might never find a publisher at all.

Speed and money control many things, but neither of those motivates people to read or write fiction. Don’t like the novel you’re reading? Start another. Don’t like the novel you’re writing? Start something else.

Composing good fiction is certainly hard work. But it’s also a chance to give and receive. In “Three Cognitive Benefits of Reading Fiction,” Jordan Bates lists these opportunities:

“1. Improves social perception and emotional intelligence…

  2. Increases empathy…

  3. Makes one more comfortable with ambiguity…”

Who wouldn’t want to be more open-minded, in touch with our common humanity, and capable of coping with language’s intricacy and our world’s uncertainty?

This still doesn’t explain why so many continue writing fiction when so it’s so much easier to publish what the industry calls “truth.”

~ Truth.
Plato argued that story can’t be “true” because it doesn’t record what happened. Aristotle countered that story tackles the higher truths: causality, credibility, and morality. The gift is the journey toward the real truths.

~ Discovery.
The novelist must examine many kinds of truth. Which emotions are genuine? Why do people harbor so many secrets? How is this incident/character/description both like and unlike that one? The gift is clearer vision.

~ Escape.
Instead of worrying about bills, you make metaphors. Instead of arguing with your sister-law, you abbreviate or expand time. The gift is the stimulation of creating an alternative reality.

~ Power.
You’re the master of this world. What a trip! You gleefully demolish whatever bores you and nobly insure that nice guys finish first. The gift is engineering the ending you want.

~ Catharsis.
If you’ve done your job, your characters faced obstacles that spurred them toward maturity. The gift is their journey enhancing your own in ways you don’t consciously notice.

Take a moment to look beyond how hard you work or discouraged you sometimes get. You’re expanding horizons—including you own. You’re affecting the culture while becoming part of it.

Tip: Novels change the lives not just of characters, but of those reading about or creating them.

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