Why Fiction matters – a teenager tells us.

Fiction (noun): Literature in the form of prose, especially novels, that describes imaginary events and people.

The genre fiction is one of the most widespread. According to B.B.C., 1.8 million books are sold every day in the U.S. and another half a million books are sold across the pond, in the U.K. The universal truth that almost everyone seems to agree on: reading breeds success. But what role does fiction play in that journey? Is reading fiction actually good?

Research indicates that fiction can allow us to become “better people.” To me that’s  evident as fiction teaches us humans to empathize with the world around us and connect with characters in the novel, which in turn helps us relate to the people around us.

Fiction matters because it helps us enter a different world. It helps us imagine, perceive and possibly understand people to a greater extent. An instance from my life where reading fiction helped me change perspective was reading “To kill a Mockingbird” in the 9th grade. I had to read it for English class and I kept complaining about the constant extensive quizzes, analyzing almost every single line, every quote, and the massive end of term essay. But all of this helped me understand the book in a way that would otherwise have been impossible. The constant jotting down of notes, examining quotes, viewing everything through a different perspective, helped me think, or rather forced me to really think, about prejudice and racism.

While reading fiction, you are seeing everything from the perspective of the central character, or in the case of novels such as ‘Wonder,’ different characters every chapter. But once you are able to experience the feeling of looking through someone else’s eyes, it is a feeling that stays.

My reading habits have remained mostly the same for the last 5-6 years or so- always sitting in bed, under the covers at midnight, and flipping furiously through the pages, possibly risking my eyesight even though I’m already quite blind. Although I enjoy reading, my collection is primarily limited to fiction. The only non-fiction book I have read willingly is “The Diary of Anne Frank.” As a reader,  I hold fiction in very high esteem.  I enjoy living within the pages and imagining myself as a part of the story, as that is what fiction helps you do. I honestly do think fiction enables you to grow as a person, as do most books. Reading, unfortunately, nowadays is not a habit people form willingly.

Not everyone has to read, of course, but it is an excellent practice to adopt-though ‘practice’ may not be an entirely proper word to use. My first day of English class in Singapore was quite eventful- our teacher, as many teachers of English before him, is invested in us developing our reading habits early. He revealed some ‘shocking’ data and information regarding reading. People who read for a short span of 20 minutes a day, score 90 % in the percentile for English language tests. Only twenty minutes a day! Understandably, you might choose to spend those 20 minutes watching an episode of ‘Friends’ but maybe it’s more about finding the ‘right book’ to start off with. Some people give up on reading due to the unfortunate event of reading the ‘wrong book.’ I know if I hadn’t lived and breathed “Harry Potter” for five years, I wouldn’t appreciate reading as much as I do today.

However, this blog post isn’t to convince you to start reading, although hopefully by the end of it, you will feel more inspired to read than you were before. Unless, you are already an avid reader, in which case, you already practice what I preach.

Fiction, after all, is just the ‘other alternative.’ There’s always the non-fiction section if you choose to be more of a ‘realist’ type of person who enjoys math books, autobiographies, and textbooks. Not that non-fiction isn’t an appealing genre: the true-crime part definitely makes up for the math. But what is it precisely that makes fiction so unique?

Bill Gates sums up in two sentences what I have been tiresomely trying to say in the last couple of paragraphs:

“A lot of the reading I do is so I can keep learning about the world. But I love the way good fiction can take you out of your own thoughts and into someone else’s.”

Another quote I found online, to sum up, the ‘theory’ of fiction, is by J.R.R.Tolkien:

“I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of
fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison walls?”

I think there’s a certain beauty in fiction, i.e., its ability to ‘unite.’ With the fear of sounding overly cheesy, take a look at the above quotes. Tolkien, the creator of a ‘fairy tale’ book series that would continue to live for decades, who created imaginary languages he called ‘Nafarrin,’ and Bill Gates, a businessman with 102 billion USD to his name- both are different. But, both agree on the power of fiction- how it manages to transport you someplace else. You understand problems, and you understand the world around you. Reading about the obstacles the main character faces, their challenges, their insecurities- it makes us feel more humane, fosters empathy.

Have you ever felt lost after finishing a book? Or confused, saddened- sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re angry. This turbulence of emotions, your reaction as you flip through the pages is what marks good fiction. For example, I recently finished a book called “The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern. The entire process was magical. The book itself is one of those rare kinds where when it ends, the wrenching out of the ‘world’ amongst the pages led to feel as if there was an empty pit in my stomach. I immediately had to plunge into another book. I’m currently reading ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ and while it is a beautiful novel, my mind still wanders back to “The Night Circus”. It is a book I will most definitely read again.

Fiction is unlimited. Within fiction itself there are several genres you can choose to explore- Y.A. fiction, popular amongst teenagers, crime, drama, romance, thrillers, satire, fantasy. “Pride and Prejudice,” “1984,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Wuthering Heights”- examples of some of the most famous pieces of classic fiction literature, but modern-day fiction is not to be overruled- gems such as the “Kite Runner,” “Gone Girl,” “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,” and I may as well include “Night Circus” into the mix.

Fiction writers, I think, benefit largely from experiencing the world from someone else eyes, obviously, far more than we as readers do. They create the characters, they practically live and breathe every single word, every single dialogue. Rowling admits to bursting into tears after killing off one of her main characters- authors are as lost in the world that they have created as we are. They are often incredibly insightful, having looked at so many different situations and perspectives. I think sometimes, fiction helps us probe ourselves, for who we are- our morals, as well as our beliefs.

As I have mentioned before, Fiction helps us empathize. For example, a friend of mine read ‘The Glass Castle,’ by Jeanette Walls – a memoir. However, my friend described it as a memoir that was more like a made-up story- some facts about Walls’ life are so unexpected, you have to remind yourself that you are reading a biography. The book prompted her to tears, and according to her, she ‘has never cried while reading a novel.’ This shows how powerful words can be- certainly, there are numerous examples of fiction novels that have caused the same impact- but I was surprised at how much the book moved her.

Fiction teaches us that, sometimes, questions are best left unanswered. The truth doesn’t have to be brought out into the open; the air of mystery does not have to be disturbed. For example, I think “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood is exceptionally poignant for the sole reason that the ending is a cliffhanger. Perhaps not the only reason- the book is, in my opinion, one of the most important pieces of fiction that will ever be introduced to the world. The ending is open- this means that you as a reader can make up so many different possibilities, you can conceive so many different ideas as to what exactly could have happened, what would have happened. Fiction teaches us to imagine, to dream.

Tara Lohani

Contributor Introduction: My name is Tara Lohani, and I am a 15-year-old aspiring writer. My journey of writing initially began through my love of reading- I’ve always loved to express my thoughts and emotions through writing, which is why I have greatly enjoyed my internship with the Himalayan Writing Retreat. I currently live and study in Singapore, where I’ve
had several other opportunities to explore and improve upon my writing skills, as well as develop an interest in journalism, which I further hope to pursue.

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7 Responses

  1. woah! you seem to have covered it all, and yet, this world, is a world of endless possibilities..kudos to you for this essay, coz, right now, I’m in 1932 Japan, and I’m uncomfortable & loving it.

  2. Beautifully written Tara. Loved reading through it. I never thought much about my need to read stories (fiction). You have articulated it for me. Thanks and keep writing.

  3. Dear Tara,
    Thank you for introducing me to a writer who one day, when I walk into a well-loved bookstore or pull up Amazon Books, I’ll see her book in a collection of new authors. You are, indeed, your name: Tara-Star, that attracts my eyes to the wonder out there in the deepest space of the universe…the human story.
    Keep writing and challenging old ladies like me to go for the books that call me to celebrate and mourn.

    Grateful and Hopeful,
    Elizabeth

  4. So beautifully written article Tara. mighty impressed with your writing. Keep reading and keep writing. Love and best wishes!

  5. You’ve made my case as a fiction writer and I may use some of what you’ve elaborated on so persuasively, in my next chat with a publisher. All the best for a great writing career, Tara. I get the feeling it will be great.

  6. Hi Tara
    I am not into fiction …. after reading your article ,I May add a few in my library
    Coming From some one in class 9 , very impressive … you are gifted .. pursue your dream! God bless
    Arun

  7. Hi Tara
    I was a voracious reader of fiction for nearly two decades of my life
    My only fear then was that I would never ever be able to complete reading all of the great books and stories lying unread. This fear or apprehension kept coming back to haunt me time and again. I could read really fast and recall having completed some books cover to cover virtually non stop in a matter of a day or two.
    Thereafter with a busy responsible job as a civil servant I was forced to give up on this passion, indulging myself only occasionally.
    Your write up today struck a chord and released the above thought. It brought back those memories when I too would be immersed and transported in the characters and their fictional world.
    If you can then I implore you not to give up on this magical passion. Keep reading. Keep writing.🙂🙂

    Norbu Tshering

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