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  • Alan Dale

Does Fiction Matter?

Fiction matters deeply to me, although I’m aware that it represents the irrelevant or trivial to some.

Here are some principal reasons why fiction is important to me.

1. Escapism

There seems to be widespread agreement about the benefits of escapism, as a release from the endless contemplation of problems, worries, threats, etc.. There are examples cited of over-dependence on escapism leading to certain delusional and other negative effects, particularly associated with excessive internet usage. Enjoyment of a riveting mystery, historical drama or whodunnit, however, is not usually regarded as intrinsically harmful.

I’ve certainly found it beneficial, enabling me to ride out, navigate or survive some of the most challenging events of my life. Reaching that point when one can stop striving or worrying, to enjoy the development of a gripping tale, has always felt curative and therapeutic. It gives you something to look forward to, especially if there seems to be little or anything else. Even when I’ve been so stressed that concentration on anything except the problem has seemed impossible, I’ve usually derived some tangible benefit from reading. These benefits have increased enormously since I took up writing, but were already considerable, long before that.

2. Stimulation of Readers’ Imaginations

Fiction frequently inspires readers to begin writing, or various other careers and hobbies that occur within the narrative. Many interviews, obituaries and biographies include examples of fictional characters’ passions, amateur interests or professions having inspired career choices. Many examples of this kind of influence seem to me to derive from the status accorded characters occupying certain roles. Doctors, lawyers and engineers, for example, frequently attract the respect considered appropriate to their professional standing.

I remember finding this encouraging, as an engineering student, nearly fifty years ago, when, not yet moving in such circles, I never encountered real instances.

3. References to Cultural and Literary Heritages

Many novels contain numerous references to the cultural and literary backgrounds of their settings and characters. These are enjoyable in themselves, enriching and deepening our understanding of characters’ opinions, prejudices, strengths and gifts. They also help to paint a much more detailed and absorbing historical, social and artistic backdrop for the action. Allusions to one of my other interests, such as railways, model-making, sailing ships, cricket, philosophy or music have frequently enhanced my enjoyment of a book. This makes one far more critical of any attempts at technical or specialised detail, adding a whole new layer of fascination to reading and criticism.

5. Social Bonding

Janie Jackson, my first writing tutor at the Writers’ Bureau, recommended that I join a Writing Circle. I’ve never regretted it. Apart from making new friends, I have learned a great deal from my fellow writers, sometimes volumes from simple, throw-away remarks and asides.

6. Insights into Authors’ Worldviews

Many, if not all characters are standard bearers for their creators’ worldviews. This can be a source of irritation in some cases, but can equally offer detailed and balanced discussions of peoples’ searches for truth. I always relish such insights, both as character development and sharing of actual experience, given that this is often the source of such material.

I think these are some compelling reasons why fiction matters.

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