Today I’m excited to have my author friend JPC Allen on the blog discussing fiction. Let’s get to it 🙂
Sometimes, when you are too close to a subject, it’s hard to describe or appreciate it. When Liz asked me to write a guest post about the importance of fiction, the request stopped me cold. I’ve read mysteries and written fiction since I was seven, so fiction was obviously important to me. But why? That’s where I had to dig down deep. The three ways I find fiction important is probably true for most people, too.
Everyone needs a break from reality now and again. Taking refuge in a book can ready us to face the world again. A literary escape is very different from one found in the visual arts. Much more so than movies, books must have consumers to complete the artistic process begun by the author. This makes fiction very personal. And very democratic. Six people can read the same story and imagine the same character six different ways based on their life experiences and their unique interpretation of the author’s description. Unless a reader’s interpretation is absolutely opposed to the author’s intent—like suggesting The Lord of the Rings contains Buddhist symbolism when the author has stated it has Christian symbols—anything goes. The reader is much freer in books than in movies or other types of video entertainments to create their own world to escape into.
Although we ought to go to nonfiction if we want the facts on a subject we’re curious about, fiction lets us explore life issues from the safety of our homes. I think this is especially true with kids and teens. Fiction seems to sink in deeper at that age. The injustice of the rich kids having all the advantages over the poor kids in The Outsiders affected me much more strongly at 16 than it would have at 36.
Fiction even helped me write my senior paper on Macbeth. I had to pick a theme and prove it with quotes from the play. Something about Macbeth’s lust for power reminded me of a quote from Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie.
Detective Hercule Poirot approaches a young woman who is harassing, in an entirely legal way, her former fiancé and his new wife. Poirot feels sorry for her and advises her to leave the couple alone. He says,
“’Do not open your heart to evil.’”
“Her lips fell apart; a look of bewilderment came into her eyes.
“Poirot went on gravely: ‘Because—if you do—evil will come … Yes, very surely, evil will come … It will enter in and make its home within you, and after a little while it will no longer be possible to drive it out.’”
In the novel, I could see how one evil act led to another and another, just like in Macbeth. Both works gave me an understanding of the dark side of human nature, and I wrote my paper. The fact that I understood Shakespeare because I read Agatha Christie would probably have reduced my senior English teacher to tears. And not of joy.
In Webster’s II New College Dictionary, edify is defined this way: “To enlighten or instruct so as to encourage intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement.” Although I have never started a book of fiction to be edified, certain books have accomplished that feat. Death on the Nile gave me an understanding of evil that I’ve found true in life and is supported by the Bible. In Watership Down, a band of young rabbits try to establish a new warren in the English countryside. As they travel, they find two very different warrens. Author Richard Adams explores themes of power and leadership. I didn’t realize this until probably the third or fourth time I read the book because the storytelling is so enthralling, but it has given me food for thought ever since.
When fiction brings home a truth about life, I remember it much better because the emotion that usually accompanies fiction makes the truth more vivid.
One Note of Warning
Because fiction is so powerful, tapping into our very human desire for storytelling, we need to choose our fiction carefully, especially for kids and teens. Many books out there offer immoral escapism, explore themes that aren’t healthy, and do the exact opposite of edify. You are what you eat, and you are what you read – fiction is that important.
What a true statement you made, that you are what you eat, and you are what you read! Yes, fiction has a big part in forming who we are.
Thank you for sharing your insight!
JPC Allen started her writing career in second grade with an homage to Scooby Doo. She’s been tracking down mysteries ever since and written mystery short stories for Mt. Zion Ridge Press. Her Christmas mystery “A Rose from the Ashes” was a Selah-finalist at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in 2020. Her first novel, a YA mystery, A Shadow on the Snow, came out in December 2021. Online, she offers tips and prompts to ignite the creative spark in every kind of writer. She also leads workshops for tweens, teens, and adults, encouraging them to discover the adventure of writing. Coming from a long line of Mountaineers, she is a life-long Buckeye. Follow her to the next mystery at Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Amazon, and Bookbub.
Nineteen-year-old Rae Riley can barely believe her gamble paid off. After spending seven months investigating the identity of her father and whether he tried to murder her mother, Rae has been accepted by her dad, Sheriff Walter “Mal” Malinowski IV, and his immediate family with open hearts. And for the first time in her life, Rae is making friends, jamming with three cute cops who play outlaw country music.
But someone is leaving Rae threatening notes, reminding her of her late mother’s notorious past when Bella Rydell wrecked homes and lives during the few years she lived in rural Marlin County, Ohio. Fearing the threats will make Mal and his family reject her, Rae investigates the mystery on her own. But her amateur sleuthing may cost her the father she’s always wanted when the stalker changes targets and takes dead aim at Mal.
See my review of A Shadow on the Snow here.
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Readers and writers, what role do you believe fiction plays in our lives? Post your positive comments below 🙂