Friday, January 9, 2009

In Defense of Fiction

For millions of story-lovers, of course, fiction needs no defense. That's true even if you're not a reader. Fiction tends to be a word we relate to books, but people who love movies, TV shows, plays and operas merely like their fiction in another form. I once knew a fellow who explained to me at some length, knowing full well I was a writer, that fiction was an absolute waste of time. No value in it at all? I asked. Nope. None. Hardly five minutes later, he began to extol his love for Clint Eastwood films. And no, he never did get it.

Despite its many fans, fiction still catches flak. Even from people who like it, as shown above. It's trivial, some say. Fluff, at best, keeping us from worthier pursuits. Or it's subversive, enticing us to any one of the seven deadly sins and then some, depending on genre. It encourages living in a dream world, taking us off on flights of fancy when we ought to have our feet on the ground. It's false, all lies, goes another rant.

To which I reply with one of my favorite quotes: Nonfiction is fact; fiction is truth.

Fiction exercises your imagination and creativity, and that's a useful thing. But it's bigger and better than that. Fiction is a road out of self. You walk in other people's shoes for the length of the story. You try on problem-solving and compassion. You see how characters grow and change as a result of what they've been through. You visit other lands, other cultures, other times. You live other lives. But the following is my favorite way to defend fiction. I tell people a little story:

You may remember King David, a man of great successes and great failures. He wanted the wife of one of his military leaders, so he enticed her while her husband wasn't home, got her pregnant, and then had the man killed when he couldn't maneuver him into sleeping with his wife in time to make it look like the child was his. Time passed, and a prophet named Nathan came to visit the king. Nathan sat for a spell and said, "I've got a little story for you. There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor." He proceeded to tell David about the poor man's one little ewe lamb, and how, when the rich man received a guest, he didn't butcher one of his own sheep or cattle for the meal but stole the poor man's one ewe instead. David was incensed. "That man should die!" he said. "And pay for that lamb four times over." Nathan replied, "You are the man."

Whoa. Talk about being blindsided with truth.

Now suppose Nathan had gone in with the nonfiction approach. "Your majesty, you've sinned big-time and God sent me here to tell you he's steaming mad. You're guilty of so many sins I hardly have enough fingers to tick them off: idleness, looking at naked women who don't belong to you, enticement, adultery, deception, disloyalty, murder. You've misused the crown, you've--" By that time Nathan might have lost his head, I don't know. At the very least, David's defenses would go up. The chance that he'd get haughty and refuse to hear would be much increased.

But story bypassed David's mind and got him in the heart. And that's the worth of fiction.


Gottawrite Girl said...

LOVE this post and absolutely agree. I just posted a comment on Beth's blog... if there's no edge of grit, or uncomfortable honesty, my fraudulence alarm goes off!

Marcia, THANKS for posting!!!

Anne Spollen said...

Love that quote: Nonfiction is fact; fiction is truth.

Great post!

Marcia said...

GWG -- Thanks. I think honest fiction really helps open us up to life. Fiction allows you to explore "fer instance," as my dad might have said. It puts forth an example of how things really play out, especially relationally.

Anne -- I don't remember where I heard it, but it just hit me between the eyes and I never forgot it. Unfortunately, I have no idea who said it.

PJ Hoover said...

Very well said! I love fiction! Always have. Always will.

Mary Witzl said...

I love this too, and you are so right. Good fiction should strike a chord in us; it should inspire us and raise our pulses and give us visions of a better way to be. I love both fiction and non-fiction and strongly feel there is a place for both.

Marcia said...

Mary, I agree. We'll always need both. As a reader I always sought books whose protagonist encouraged me to be that brave, that mature, that real, etc.

Nora MacFarlane said...

Well said!!!

Marcia said...

Thanks, Nora! And thanks for stopping by.

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

Finally read this, and I'm glad I did.

Thank you for articulating this so nicely.

Marcia said...

Amy Jane, I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for stopping.