Many people wonder what the importance of literature is, specifically fiction.
“If it’s all made up, how does that help me?”
“Why should I care about magic? I have my own life to live!”
Literature actually has a huge influence on how we approach relationships, adversity, and everyday life. So fiction is important, but how? And why do people write fiction?
In an article from Psychology Today, Parker states that a 2018 study analyzed the effects of reading fiction and reports that the researchers found that reading fiction “modestly improves people’s capacity to understand and mentally react to other individuals and social situations” which consequently can have an affect on interpersonal relationships and personal development (Parker). Similarly, an article from the Conversation reports that fictional literature has recently played into how many individuals approach romantic relationships. The authors explain that readers of Young Adult (YA) fiction “identify with what is happening on the page and learn [about sex and romance] without having to seek advice or information from adults or peers” (Little & Moruzi). The authors further their claim by stating how various studies depict how YA fiction readers essentially use reading as a way of learning “sexual intimacy” and gaining a sex education. YA fiction writers may not intend to give young readers instructions for romantic relationships, however, young and impressionable readers may be subconsciously storing the information. In these ways, fiction is more than a little magical story, but an method of informing readers how to engage in interpersonal and romantic relationships. Eventually, this leads into affects on communication skills, personality development, and romantic interests.
“Fantasy fiction is often set in a different time or place, but it still reflects contemporary concerns.”Elizabeth Little & Kristine Moruzi
Fiction works may be set in a completely other world with super-powers and characters that are completely unimaginable in reality, yet this doesn’t mean that the characters and their struggles are illegitimate. An article from the Washington Post very passionately states that the role of a novelist is to “to re-interpret old hopes and terrors for his or her own times” (Washington Post). Often, events and situations in real life are difficult to navigate and fiction can provide a more digestible setting for these events. Through fiction, readers can fit their experiences into the storyline like a puzzle and utilize the fiction world to shape and understand their present reality.
Lo Basso’s article eloquently discusses this idea as well. In the article, filled with further research and analysis, Lo Basso explains that “when readers read fiction, they know they are encountering human-constructed characters, settings, and situations. This necessary suspension of disbelief—of having to entertain the possibility of other realities—means readers of fiction aren’t merely learning to understand the world as it is, but, also, how to imagine a different one” (Lo Basso). Lo Basso’s article claims that fiction doesn’t just inform personal experience, but also shapes society. With examples from Plato and contemporary literature to depict their impacts on society, Lo Basso exposes the impact of fiction in society and how readers use fiction to inform their lives.
And that, I think, is what makes fiction a revolutionary tool—it doesn’t just provide readers with the capacity to imagine different futures, but, crucially, the very real people in them.Francesca Lo Basso
When I was growing up, I was a decently avid reader and enjoyed mostly YA romantic fiction or fantasy novels. The stories from these novels informed me about romantic relationships, how to navigate difficult situations with friends and family, and sometimes even how to dress. For me, and for many of my friends in middle school (and even now in college), reading fiction may have included romanticized relationships or supernatural magic, but the lessons, language, and experiences of the characters informed our lives and provided a basis on which to develop our identities and personalities.
Writers may not always intend to inform their reader through every word and scenario in their books, but I definitely think there is a correlation between the writer’s story and the information the reader gathers. Writers are real people with real experiences and we make mistakes. For us, writing can be a way of sharing experiences and information with readers. Writers also have different perspectives of the world and come from across the globe. In this way, writers of other cultures, religions, and political stances can share their ideas in a space that is not hindered by intimidation and judgement, but instead in a space that encourages contemplation and analysis. In response, the readers can gather information from stories and push past the magical realism to either deny or accept the messages of the writers.
Writing fiction, like reading fiction, is a practice in empathy.Jennifer Haigh
Fiction in particular provides an even broader space for contemplation, inquiry, and discussion of writer’s message(s). Overarching themes and ideas can be masked by different words or scenarios and present day issues and occurrences can be reinterpreted with the presence of magic. Essentially, it’s up to the reader to decide if they want to uncover the messages in the mazes of words. However, it’s also up to the writer to decide how overt they want to be in their writing. Interpreting and reading fiction, therefore, must be a collaborative effort between the writer and reader in order to truly understand the themes, messages, and ideas present in any work of fiction literature. This is where the magic really is—it’s in the action of creating a world and message through the collaboration of the reader and writer. This is one of the central reasons I write fiction.
Personally, I have many reasons for writing, and for writing fiction in particular. Many of these reasons have been discussed in other blogs posts or explored privately as I decipher my own writing process. However, the central reason that I write fiction is because of the new and diverse opportunities it provides for me to explore ideas and concepts. As I stated earlier, my friends and I grew up learning about our world through fiction. As a result of these foundations, I have come to utilize my writing to communicate ideas and information to my readers in a way that in digestible and entertaining. Fiction is a not just a way of writing, but a place. Fiction is where anything is possible and anything is up for discussion and exploration. Fiction is where I thrive and where I hope my readers can too. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.Ralph Waldo Emerson
Little , Elizabeth, and Kristine Moruzi. “’I Couldn’t Escape. I Wasn’t Entirely Sure I Wanted to’: Confusing Messages about Consent in Young Adult Fantasy Fiction.” The Conversation, 15 Mar. 2021, theconversation.com/i-couldnt-escape-i-wasnt-entirely-sure-i-wanted-to-confusing-messages-about-consent-in-young-adult-fantasy-fiction-156961.
Lo Basso Follow Francesca Lo Basso Francesca Lo Basso is a narrative strategist, Francesca. “How Reading Fiction Can Shape Our Real Lives.” Greater Good, Berkeley.edu, 11 Sept. 2020, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_reading_fiction_can_shape_our_real_lives.
“One of England’s most Popular Novelists Reflects on what Writers do and Why Fiction Matters.: [FINAL Edition].” The Washington Post, Sep 30, 2001, pp. WBK.8. ProQuest, http://aquinas.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.aquinas.idm.oclc.org/newspapers/one-englands-most-popular-novelists-reflects-on/docview/409157249/se-2?accountid=8340.
Parker, Holly. “The Real-Life Benefits of Reading Fiction.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 7 June 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-future-self/201806/the-real-life-benefits-reading-fiction.