Reading and writing have been aspects of our lives since the dawn of time and it did not necessarily translate to what we use today, that is, alphabets.
Back in ancient times, people would communicate through wall paintings, hieroglyphs for the Egyptians and after years of evolution, we developed the alphabets.
According to the official website of the UNESCO Institute for Statistic, 84.1% of the global adult population is literate while the figure for youth is 89.5% and it indicates that these statistics keep growing. For those people who are able to read and write, they are exercising that capability every single day of their lives; whether it is by reading the names of the cereal they eat in the morning or reading the latest celebrity gossip on the newspaper or even just chatting with a friend through any form of social media. But it is not fiction, it is simply using the tool of literacy for communicating simple and immediate thought. What really makes full use of that wonderful capability is fiction writing.
Now, don’t get me wrong, fiction does not tantamount to fantasy (a mistake that a lot of people tend to do). Just because a novel is not based on the real life of someone doesn’t mean that it necessarily includes magic and dragons and witches. Fiction is defined by Dictionary.com as the class of literature comprising of imaginative narration. Basically, it means that fiction is a story that you create. And whatever you create will automatically have its genesis in the real life. And that is why fiction of all kind is real life.
First of all, let’s see how reading fiction is a form of mental health therapy. An article from The Independent, written by Brian Viner, talks about how literary fiction is being used to transform people’s lives all around the UK. In his article, he interviewed numerous persons suffering from some sort of mental health situation, ranging from simple anxiety and clinical depression to someone suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. All these people meet every week for a reading session at the “Get Into Reading” organisation.
The initiative was undertaken by Miss Jane Davis, a lecturer at Liverpool University. In the interview, she says that these people have troubles expressing their own emotions but even worse than that, most of them do not even understand what it is that they are feeling. And when they meet each week and read a work of fiction by either Shakespeare of Dickens or some other author, these people begin to see that situations and characters in the stories are very much the same as them. The stories depicts situations, thoughts and emotions that the readers have all felt at one point or the other and through reading about those, the readers are able to realise they are not the only people on earth who feel like that.
When people read fiction and see characters, who at first are complete strangers to them, go through all sorts of ordeal and difficulties, and when the characters try to make sense of what they are feeling, the readers begin to comprehend their own feelings as well. Which in turn helps them to express those feelings better and to connect with people better… even if it’s just two serial killers getting together because they both feel like Dexter Morgan.
Even when reading about fantasy, which is a form of fiction, all the magic and surreal elements have their origin in reality. Who doesn’t understand the anguish and pain and anger behind the Cruciatus Curse used by Harry against Bellatrix in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? Who doesn’t understand the concept of the Dementors as metaphor for depression? All these are surreal elements but they do very much reflect reality.
Now, why is writing fiction important? In an article from The Guardian, renowned British author Neil Gaiman said that the future depends on reading and day dreaming and how fiction is an important tool of human development.
I believe that writing fiction is a way to answer two big questions. What and Why. What do people do and why do they do it? What happens and why does it happen? When you are writing something that is not fiction, you will rarely ask yourself these questions. But when writing fiction, you want it to feel as relatable as possible. You don’t want the reader to say “Oh that would never happen!” instead you want them to think “I can understand that.” When writing fiction, you learn about the world, the reasoning behind all things that interest you and you build empathy with situations and people, something that Neil Gaiman said as well.
Writing fiction can lead you to question why the reality is the way it is, which is the starting point of all major discoveries in history. One example of how writing fiction can lead to better understanding reality, is the script for the 2013 movie Interstellar, written by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan and directed by the latter. When reviewing the script that his brother wrote for the movie, Christopher Nolan began to get very interested in the mechanic of interstellar travel and of the black hole. This led to him meeting up with astro-physicist Kip Thorne and together, they began developing the idea of a proper and realistic representation of a black hole. Eventually, they realised that all the ideas they could come up with were scientifically plausible and could answer major questions about the nature of black holes and their impact on the universe.
It is true that fiction is a way for both the reader and the writer to escape reality. Reading fiction enables one to shut their mind to the reality of things that surrounds them. For a few hours, the reader can engage in a purely instinctive and imaginative journey that only they can enjoy and understand. For a few hours, they are not the same person anymore, they do not have to deal with the same problems, the same people.
For individuals with a hard life, fiction is indeed a refuge from all that pain. For the writer, fiction is their way of doing whatever they want. To write down all the feelings they have, all the ideas, however crazy they are, and to navigate them. For the writer of fiction, writing is always accompanied with the idea of discovering. It is almost like the writer is finally beginning to make sense of what they feel and that’s their escapism. Like the reader, the writer can engage in this creative process for a few hours and escape to a world where they have complete control of whatever happens, of how people think, react and act. They are the god of that world.
But ultimately, one cannot live in fiction. Sooner or later, you will have to close the book, put the pen down and get back out there and live life, live reality. That moment of escapism may have given you a rest from life and when you are done with it, you might feel refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to face life again.
The escapism may have given you the solutions to the problems you face in reality. Either way, escapism is not a bad thing. It is something that we all are allowed to experience, even those who have nothing to complain about life. That’s what fiction brings to the readers and the writers, a right to experience emotions and situations that are both ours and not. Emotions and situations that are both realistic and fantastical.