Monday, April 30, 2007

Fiction Fast? : Three Advantages of Fiction

Fiction falls into one of three main “colors”: white (good craft and control), black (bad craft and content), and gray (good craft and bad content or bad craft and good content).

The first, obviously, are must-read stories that are safe to read. The second has dangerous theology, but the writing is so bad that no one would want to read it anyway. But, for better or worse, most fiction falls into one of the two middle categories—into the gray area. So what’s a Christian supposed to do?

One possible solution is to completely shun all fiction, film or book. After all, if fiction is so dangerous, wouldn’t it be safest to cut it completely from our diet?

I admit, fasting from some story types for short periods can be wise. I also know you might have to limit some stories for your imagination health, like a diabetic limiting sweets. But to cut all fiction all the time—it would be like eating bread and water three meals a day, 365 days a year: You can survive, but why would you eat only that if you don’t have to? Besides, eating bread and water isn’t exactly the healthiest menu.

So why am I convinced that fiction is necessary to a balanced imagination diet? Consider these three advantages:

Entertainment: In short, fiction allows us to escape. For a few short hours we enjoy people we’ve never met and experience places and events few of which we will ever know, allowing us to leave behind our ordinary world of stress, conflict, and unpredictability. Then we return to the real world, refreshed from focusing on another’s problems as if we’ve taken an emotional nap.

I know some people think fiction as escape is a great evil, and yes, taken to an extreme, it can be dangerous. But so is food. Eaten in excess (gluttony), it can lead to obesity and to death. But that doesn’t mean food isn’t good and necessary.

Perspective: Closely related to escape’s emotional nap is the provision of fresh perspective. Just as sleeping distances us from a problem (hence the old advice to “sleep on it”), fiction lifts us above our daily lives. It reminds us those mountains may be mole hills and grants us hope that despite our current problems, our story will end well too. After all, Frodo had to pass through Mordor before he could destroy the ring, and the Pevensie children had to fight a great battle before they were crowned kings and queens of Narnia.

Experience: Ever been told to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? Nothing beats real life experience, but in a limited way fiction also allows us to do that without having to directly experience the pain: We watch events unfold, often from multiple perspectives; feel a character’s frustration, pain, and joy; and glimpse the why behind the decisions. For a moment we see the world through the eyes of God, you might say. And while fiction cannot represent reality perfectly, it lets us gain a shade of understanding as to why a bereaved parent, rebellious child, and antagonistic lover react the way they do.

More than that, should you find yourself in the same position as a character, your situation may not seem so overwhelming: You’ve already “experienced” this once before and have some idea of what to do—and what not to.

So those are three of fiction’s advantages, although hardly the only ones. So what are some benefits you gain from the imaginary?

Feet on the ground, head in the clouds,
Chawna Schroeder

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