Fictional stories have been central to human life for thousands of years. Yet, when it comes to fiction, you often hear phrases like “but it’s only fiction,” or “it ain’t real.” The implicit meaning behind such phrases is that fiction is somehow less valuable than non-fiction; that it’s far removed from the real world and its only purpose is to entertain people. Which is partly true. Yes, fictional literature is made from the imagination and it’s often written to entertain people. Still, one doesn’t exclude the other. Fictional stories are imaginary, but they’re just as well rooted in the real world. Likewise, they can be entertaining while at the same time pointing to social issues that are very much present in society.
For anyone not convinced yet, here’re some of the reasons why reading fiction is important.
Fiction Shapes Our Point of View
Fiction has a huge cultural impact on what we think or believe in. What distinguishes literature most from other, non-literary texts, like factual articles or reports, is its ‘literariness,’ its ability to make ordinary language, and thus the ordinary world, seem strange. Stories invite us to see the world through different lenses, to question what we’ve yet taken for granted, and to imagine alternatives. They are a powerful tool in raising awareness about social, cultural or environmental issues.
Fiction Allows Us to Step into Someone Else’s Shoes
Fiction enhances our ability to empathize with other people. That’s because fictional stories allow us to see and experience the world through the eyes of someone else. Sometimes the characters you meet are similar to you, but other times they’re completely removed from you–be it because they have a different gender, age, nationality, attitude, culture, you name it. Fiction thus helps us better understand the people we meet in real life.
Fiction Tells Us What Non-Fiction Can’t
History books tell you why and how it happened. Historical fiction tells you how it felt like. Sometimes, the hard facts just ain’t enough. Being informed is not the same thing as feeling concerned. And this is precisely where fiction comes into play. Fiction has the unique capacity to emotionalize readers. And this is important to get people to change ways of thinking and behaviour.
Fiction Allows Us to Imagine Likely Futures
Fictional stories about the future, specifically science fiction, make us imagine what the future might look like if things carried on in the direction they were headed. While most of the stories set in the distant future seem to be far-fetched, there’s indeed a lot of fact behind the fiction. These visions aren’t scary only for the sake of entertainment, but they warn us about alarming trends in society. They invite us to draw connections between the fictional world–however strange it may appear–and the real one. As a result, they encourage us to question contemporary conditions and imagine future consequences.
Fiction Entertains Us
Reading fiction is a form of escapism for many people. Especially when we’re overwhelmed by what is happening in the real world, we turn to fiction for support. Fiction brings you to places which you never otherwise would have visited. And sometimes these stories don’t have to be loaded with meaning. They’re just supposed to distract and entertain us. And that’s totally fine.
I could probably go on here, but for now I’ll leave it at that. The point I’m trying to make is: only because a story is ‘not real’ doesn’t mean that it’s less valuable. If you have further ideas about why fiction is important, let me know in the comments!
Why do you think fiction is important? Let me know in the comment section below!