Fiction isn’t as good as non-fiction, right? It doesn’t contain any true facts, is entirely made up and most importantly it doesn’t teach you anything. If this is your point of view then I must inform you that I am unable to agree and if you are shaking your head and arguing, well let us just say that we are in agreement.
For us to decide if fiction is worse than non-fiction, or not, we must first examine the claim that it is not factual. Sure, it isn’t meant as a factual piece of writing to inform you about a certain subject but that doesn’t mean that none of it is true.
If a writer includes a scene in which a character is learning to ride a horse the first action they will have taken will researching how someone learns to ride a horse. The scene that is eventually written will then have the first basic steps that come when learning to ride a horse and these will be thoroughly researched and therefore accurate. It could include the character learning to mount the horse by putting one foot in a stirrup and then lifting the other leg over, possibly including a reminder to land softly in the saddle so they don’t startle the horse. Or it might be the character first getting his horse to walk with a light squeeze of the legs just behind the girth. Either way the one thing which will stay the same is that the writer will have learnt as much as possible before even considering picking up a pen.
So it is a myth that fiction doesn’t contain any true facts because, although its main aims do not include informing you about a subject, its scenes will contain facts about any number of things. Why is this? The writer of the fiction will want to ensure that it is factual because that will help people to get lost in reading the story rather than it becoming bitty and broken as the reader stops in disbelief. The key to good fiction is that it has to be believable otherwise it falls apart.
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” – Tom Clancy
If you pick up a novel for a relaxing read it does not have to be completely made up to be a work of fiction. Many fiction writers choose real events in which to base their tale or they choose real people to use as characters. This doesn’t mean that it is the real story of these people, as facts are often altered slightly to make a good book, but it does mean that there is a basis already there when it comes to writing the characters story.
This means that when you open up a book that says it is the gripping tale of two people in the midst of a natural disaster you may find that it is based in an earthquake you remember happening. It might be led by the events of that disaster as the two characters struggle to survive. This doesn’t mean that it is a true tale all it means is that it is based on real events. Or you could be reading a book based in the past and come across a character who you remember being a real historical figure. The events they experience in the novel might not be true, they might never have happened, but the character is real. The author will have researched them to ensure that they act and respond as close as possible to how they are believed to have done by historians.
So although a novel is classed as fiction that doesn’t mean that it is completely unreal. It could well include real events or characters, not that every piece of fiction does but it does often occur. This basis in a real event could even lead you to reading different non-fiction in an attempt to find out more about it. It isn’t always a well-known or even a particularly known event that appears in the novel it can just be a part of the writer’s own experience breaking through.
Finally the idea that we cannot learn anything from fiction is truly absurd. Even if the author did not intend to convey a certain message through their writing it is still possible to find one. Every book will speak differently to everyone who reads it and they may all come out of it having learnt something different from the characters but that doesn’t make the message any less important. In the words of Margaret Atwood, “The answers you get from fiction depend on the question you pose.”
What does that mean? It means that one person could read a novel and come out with a deeper understanding of class barriers in the last nineteenth century while another person reading the same novel might finish reading and have learnt that no matter what happens it is possible to stand back up and keep going. Neither of these people has misunderstood but rather they started reading in different frames of mind, with different questions about life. Fiction isn’t about conveying a certain message; it is about helping people to find answers to their own questions through reading about the lives of others.
“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” – Ralph Emerson
So fiction is no worse than non-fiction. It doesn’t include hardly any facts at all, nor is it entirely made up. It contains facts that have been painstakingly researched and could very well be based on real events or real people. Most importantly though it does teach the reader and contain a message because the characters’ story shows the reader bravery, love and loss. It leaves an impression that is hard to shake and that is what gives fictional writing a message.