Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fiction As a Way of Life

Why do we read?  Why do we write?  What does it mean to write?  For me, these are critical questions.  I also have an answer to these questions.  It's the answer that works best for me, and I thought I'd share it with you.

We interpret everything we see.  Without our ability to interpret, we wouldn't have the ability to understand anything.  We interpret art, the content of the daily conversations we have with others, and written texts we encounter.  All we see, hear, or know, passes through the senses and is decoded by the brain.  And in that process, all we've learned from before helps us to make sense of new data.

We read because we're creatures of imagination.   As children, our parents read us fairy tales that teach us lessons in life.  It's how we learn about the world, and it's how we begin to engage with the things in life we've never directly experienced.  We continue to grow, and every once in awhile, we read something that resonates with us.  These words wiggle their way into our brains and become a part of who we are.  Our view of the world is steadily built, word by word, scene by scene, feeling by feeling.  These moments of building and connection to a new way of seeing the world are rare and precious.

I find that writing is a similar exercise.  In the end, I write more for myself than I do for anyone else.  I create a world, and I create people to inhabit it with me. We explore it together, and I feel their struggles and triumphs.  I learn alongside them.  By walking in their shoes and seeing their world through their eyes, I learn more about myself.

Image courtesy of adamr /
No matter who we are and whether we recognize it or not, fiction is a part of our lives.  And for writers, one can even say that fiction is a way of life.

Everyone has curiosity about the world around them, and when we don't know all the facts about something, we often fill in the blanks and create our own fiction to explain.  Who hasn't seen a fight break out in a public place and wondered how it started?  Regardless of whether or not it's any of our business, we can't completely shake that sense of curiosity.

We engage with fiction for the same reason we occasionally find ourselves watching a pair of people in the middle of the mall arguing.  When we watch real people that we don't know, it's like tuning in to a movie halfway through.  Given the way they dress and the words they use, we can make educated guesses about who they are and what they may be upset about.  But that's all it is: a guess.  In order to be sure, we'd have to delve more deeply into their lives, but as casual observers, we don't have the ability to do that.  Given those limitations, our picture of that moment and of the people in it is only a fiction.  It's the fiction that we can't help but write in our heads.

People engage with fiction, because it renders those tricky parts of life more comprehensible.  While we may not be able to learn everything from books or the things we write, it's a crucial piece of the puzzle of how we learn and grow.

Then, there's also the obvious answer to my questions, and one that I think is also as valid.  We read and write because it's fun.  It gives us an outlet from which to escape our lives and explore something new.  Of course, when I put it that way, it sounds an awful like what I said earlier about exploring the parts of the world that we can't see for ourselves, thus learning from the reading experience. Did I accidentally prove that learning is fun?  If so, I'll have to remember this line of reasoning for the days when my kids are older and don't feel like going to school.

I'll end this post with a quote that I believe exemplifies the importance of living a life laced with creativity.  Feel free to interpret it in whatever way feels right to you.  That is, after all, part of the joy.


  1. So true, L G, so true.

    Keep writing, keep pretending. With our words we make everything possible!

  2. It expands the mind!
    And I guess the Muppets were on to something...