Fiction is my first love, whether I’m reading or writing. In any given week, I may or may not be reading a nonfiction book, but I always have a novel on the go. I’ve dabbled in writing poetry and creative nonfiction, but fiction is the genre that has always commanded most of my attention and ideas. And I find it interesting to consider just why fiction has this ability.
We can look at fiction as pure entertainment, and often it is. I wrote a series of fantasy novels in my teens simply to escape, and if they are ever published, I will be quite happy to see people read them simply to escape. There have been a few nights lately when my husband has asked me what I want to do and I’ve said, “Let’s watch a movie. Something light and fluffy that doesn’t require much thinking.” I’ve had a busy day with lots of studying and need a break. Fiction offers that.
At the same time, fiction can also offer more than just entertainment. I’ve blogged before about the power of a story and how Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters and many of their contemporaries wrote to teach as well as to entertain. I think this deeper aspect of fiction is very important and often it’s the thing that determines whether a book ends up on my yearly Best Books list or not.
When I read and reviewed The Unfinished Child, author Theresa Shea reached out to me on Twitter to discuss my reaction to the novel. She said she’s noticed that “readers are quite upset by the ending of my novel. They wish it didn’t end the way it does. In my mind, that tells a very different story about how people REALLY feel about Down syndrome or, possibly, prenatal testing.” The Unfinished Child is a well-written novel which I enjoyed on multiple levels, including the fact it made me think. Shea deliberately wrote the ending to encourage discussion around a hot topic of our times—all within a good story.
The Merciful Scar is another novel in which I connected with the character and yet also felt like I learned a lot. Like Shea, authors Nancy Rue and Rebecca St. James bring up a big issue in the novel: cutting. Before reading the book, I really couldn’t understand what would drive someone to cut themselves. I wasn’t very many chapters into The Merciful Scar before I was crying along with Kirsten, wanting to wrap her in a hug yet completely understanding why she was hurting herself. That novel taught me not only about others but also about myself as I saw the things that I had in common with Kirsten and asked some hard questions.
Why does fiction have this power? I mean, I could simply spent five minutes reading an article about Down’s Syndrome or cutting online. However, I doubt I would have learned more in those five minutes than in the five hours (give or take) that it took me to read either novel. Both The Unfinished Child and The Merciful Scar had me crying while I was reading, wanting to reach into the stories and talk to the characters. I felt like they were real. And it is that emotional connection that makes fiction so powerful. I felt Kirsten’s pain and felt her relief when she cut herself and I got it, much better than I would have if I’d read a textbook explaining that cutting relieves pain.
This is also a topic that I’ve thought about in my writing. Often in writing classes or in writing books, theme is discussed. Writers are cautioned about theme, however, because often it can make a novel seem preachy or pushy. Yet when a theme is well-done, when it is integral to the story, it can push it into that next level. For example, right now I’m attempting to write historical fiction. One of my writing instructors asked me why—what does a woman who lived two hundred years ago have to say to readers today? As I think about that question, I come up with multiple answers, all of which will influence what happens in the story.
What is your favourite genre to read or to write?