A.R.Yngve's "Notes Toward Becoming A Better Writer": "I've Got No Use For Fiction!"

Friday, June 01, 2007

"I've Got No Use For Fiction!"

Perhaps this is overly philosophical. Perhaps I'm straining for a Deep Thought. But...

Why do we -- people, I mean -- make up fictions in the first place? What good are fictions, when you've got reality?

You may have met the kind of person who makes a statement like this: "I don't read fiction; it's just escapism. I've got no use for it!"

Could that person be right?

I can imagine a culture where fiction (in the loose sense) doesn't exist. No myths, no fairytales, no novels, just records of the past. Instead of writers, there would only be reporters -- unimaginative reporters who never "spin" or doctor the facts.

That might sound dull, but there's a lot to appreciate about the world-as-it-is. (And if you want to escape boredom, why not visit war-torn Sudan -- or Baghdad -- instead of reading or writing a thriller?)

So what's my defense of fiction? I'd seek it in biology.

The human animal has a very useful ability to plan ahead. This means making mental "images"(sort of) of what people might be doing that they're not actually doing, of events that haven't actually occurred... and the possible consequences of imaginary actions and events.

For example: "I have to go to the dentist tomorrow. Just the thought of it makes my skin crawl!"
It hasn't happened yet -- but even so, you're squirming inwardly as if you were already in the dentist's chair. Not bad for a thought which is, after all, a fiction.

Scientists have studied patients with amnesia caused by brain-damage, and found that these patients can't imagine the future normally:
Their visualisations of future events were more likely to be disorganised and emotionless. “It’s not very real. It’s just not happening. My imagination isn’t…well, I’m not imagining it, let’s put it that way,” one patient told researchers during a trial. [...]

“The results are actually showing that amnesia is really worse than we thought – patients are really stuck in the present[.]”

(Source: New Scientist)
This is a serious handicap. If you lost the ability to easily picture what you might be doing the next year, the next day, the next hour, the next minute... your life would become an aimless mess.

I think fiction springs from that basic ability: to think of things that haven't happened. And we need it. Above all, we need many different fictions to be prepared for possible futures we want to work toward... or avoid.

The next time you hear someone say "I've got no use for fiction!" just ask: "So, what'll you be doing tomorrow?"

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