/ˈfɪk ʃən/ Show Spelled[fik-shuh n]
1. the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration, esp. in prose form. 2. works of this class, as novels or short stories: detective fiction.
3. Something feigned, invented, or imagined; a made-up story: We've all heard the fiction of her being in delicate health.
4. the act of feigning, inventing, or imagining.
5. an imaginary thing or event, postulated for the purposes of argument or explanation.
6. Law. an allegation that a fact exists that is known not to exist, made by authority of law to bring a case within the operation of a rule of law.
I was trying to think last night if I knew anyone who didn’t enjoy -- require even -- fiction of some form or another in their life.
I don’t mean reading, because I know plenty of people who won’t read anything but non-fiction. But even the people I know who eschew novels, or the people I know who just don’t read at all -- period -- still go to the movies, still watch TV, still require fiction in their lives.
The more I thought about this, the more amazing it seemed to me.
I can’t think of a single culture that doesn’t have some kind of storytelling or bardic heritage. Can you? And in western culture it’s reached a kind of pinnacle; we have huge industries built on the production and distribution of fiction: the movie industry, the television industry, the (troubled) publishing industry. All these multi-million dollar corporations that exist to effectively distribute the drug to the user.
Why do we so desperately need fiction in our lives?
Entertainment, obviously, but there are lots of entertaining things in the world: sports, sex, socializing. A walk in the woods, a fine meal, a good argument…
Besides, non-fiction is just as entertaining as fiction. A well-written biography or salacious autobiography? A well-researched book on a subject you find interesting? Essays by Chesterton or Woolf? That’s entertaining, isn’t it?
Why fiction? Why fiction when fiction is inherently false?
I know, I know, there are truths in fiction that feel more real than any non-fiction, but…it’s still fiction. It’s still made up.
Fiction is opinion.
I don’t care who the writer is or what his or her experiences, I don’t care if the writer professes to be writing what he or she knows or doesn’t know. Fiction is opinion.
Fiction is not reality. The best written fiction in the world is not reality. And it should not be confused with reality. Only little children and self-important writers confuse the two.
Another thing that fascinates me is snobbery as regards to fiction.
Believe me, before I was eleven, I had heard it all. I grew up in a household where the popular view was “romance reading is for pea brains.” My mother was (at that time) a voracious romance reader. You so know we had some lively mealtime conversations.
But I don’t just mean the people who read non-fiction versus those of us who read and write “made up stuff,” I mean the snobbery that exists within echelons of fiction. Why do we (speaking generally here -- this is not my own view) hold literary fiction to be more “important” than genre fiction? It’s all made up, it’s all equally false (and true) and it’s all someone else’s opinion.
Why do we tend to think tragedy is more “important” than comedy?
Why is mystery (according to who you talk to) more highly respected than romance?
And then you’ve got the snobbery within the ranks of a particular genre. Romance writers who look down on writers of erotica, gay writers who are pained at the notion of m/m writers, hardboiled mystery writers who scorn the lack of realism in the work of cozy mystery writers, bestselling writers who convince themselves they are inherently better and more deserving than their struggling peers. Struggling peers who convince themselves they are inherently better and more deserving than the bestsellers.
And these aren’t always merely academic discussions, by the way. These are ugly, rolling in the mud, doing my best to put your eye out with my Bic medium point rumbles.
Over storytelling. Over fiction.
Anyway, this isn’t the opening to a debate about who gets to write what and how that needs to be done and whether literary fiction is more important than genre fiction or whether people are reading more or less -- nor am I soliciting ideas on how to save publishing or stop piracy.
As I’ve been thinking about what fiction means, what our need for fiction means -- think about it: we teach our children to read by giving them fiction. I know, I digress, but why don’t we teach children to read by giving them non-fiction? You could make it just as exciting as fiction. Instead of run, Dick, run it could be…without oxygen you will die.
Just a thought.
As I mull over our societal need for fiction -- actually, it’s more than societal; sometimes it feels genetic -- I’ve come to conclude that reading really is more interactive. It requires more effort from the addict to get the drug into the bloodstream. Even the dumbest book still requires more work from a reader than the dumbest movie, don’t you think?
Readers invest in storytelling in a way that viewers don’t. And no, this is not me launching into the superiority of readers over viewers. I happen to love film -- passionately. Film is a magnificent storytelling medium, but I still think reading requires a certain effort. A different kind of effort. A film is like a vacuum. You’re sucked in by sound and visual (or you’re repulsed) but basically it’s pretty much all there on the screen in front of you. Even the subtext is visual. But reading…no matter how good the writer, the reader still has to work. The reader must be willing to read between the lines.
All of which leads me to thinking about angry reader reviews. I mean, it’s kind of funny when you consider how furious we get when a story doesn’t go the way we want it to -- when an author kills a character we love, for example. But even when it’s not that extreme; when it’s just something like…the wrong couple gets together or the character you like turns out to be the killer. Or, sometimes, simply when the story just doesn’t follow the path we think -- want -- it to go.
I wanted him to hunt for the killer in New York not visit his dying father in Memphis!
Why do we care so much? I say we because I am just the same. It irritates the hell out of me when a book doesn’t go the direction I want it to. Especially if I was really liking the book.
If you analyze some of these reviews it becomes clear how often the review is based on the book or film the reviewer anticipated versus the story the writer or filmmaker had in mind. Now how can that be? How can the reader have a preconceived notion of how the story should turn out or what direction it should go? But they do, and I put this down to the interactive quality of fiction -- and reading in particular. As readers we desire certain stories. There are some stories we never get tired of reading about -- this is true for writers too, which is why we continue to explore themes and motifs long after some readers have tired of them.
We have expectations and desires for the stories we want to read about. We want our characters to be a certain kind of character, we want our stories to go a certain way (the interesting thing is how that varies from reader to reader)…we need our fiction to hit that literary G spot. And when the drug doesn’t work, when it’s diluted or the wrong thing altogether, we’re angry and frustrated as any addict who can’t find Mr. Pusher Man when he really needs him.
To me, nothing illustrates the power of fiction in our lives like our disappointment over stories that don’t work for us. It’s fascinating to watch. Yes, occasionally bewildering too, when you’re on the receiving end of someone’s ire because the story you wanted to tell clashed with their desire for you to tell a particular story. Mostly fascinating, though.
Why do we care so much? Why do we need fiction? Fiction = lies and opinions. Wouldn’t the world be a better, saner place if we stuck strictly to the facts?
Yes? No? Bueller?