Furthest Right

Why Fiction Appeals to Us, and How It Betrays Us

There is something about reading a good story — or even a not-so-good one — that appeals to us. The universe distills down to a single perspective, even if shared among multiple characters, and for a few hours of reading time, everything makes sense and most essentially, is important.

That is, a narrative exists, and in it, each action to further the narrative matters. Since the reader is basically God in this situation, perceiving all of the world through the diorama of a novel, the sympathy and appreciation of the reader matters, but so do the struggles of those in the book.

When you have one reader, one narrative, and one world, you get close to the universal conditions that most of us have imagined at some point: a benevolent god either guiding or watching approvingly as order is interrupted but then restored. Novels are driven by contradiction, contrarianism, and conflict.

Most great dramas are written on the “thus-however” timeline. Events occur, “thus” other events must occur, but when it seems like those are getting close to stability, you get a “however” and a contrary direction, so the story struggles to contain its many impulses threatening to rage out of control, which makes the return of order that much sweeter.

In any case, reality goes from this wild land of chaos where nothing matters to a place where everything matters, the characters are important, and the fact that they live on in the mind of the reader means something. Contrast this to nature where when you die, your memories go too, and nothing endures long past a human lifetime.

One can immediately see why humans return to stories. We live through the simpler, clearer struggles of these characters, and because they live on in us, we feel as if we are important, and perhaps timeless and eternal like fiction itself. Fiction makes us feel immortal even if only briefly.

In my view, the world of chaos and insignificance is as much projection as the world of universal love, truth, and trust (“live laugh love”). Nature started at some point, it continues for some reason, and it clearly aims to maintain a certain type of state so that something can happen, which means that there is a point to it all.

That may be as simple as different species evolving, becoming sane finally (this has not yet happened to humanity), and then gaining an appreciation for the transcendent things. Some might even say that life seems to be a pattern of maturation that may continue past death, as if that were part of the point.

We understand our world through stories. These can be as simple as originating in one place or state of mind and moving to another, and the reasons why this happened; the story imposes a universal narrative on life that makes sense for us, so we can share it with others and be understood, a form of being important.

At our best, fiction reveals our thinking in ways that we did not consider formally expressing it. At its worst, fiction makes us think that we are the reader of our own lives, and that therefore we have godlike powers and all importance in the world relates to us.

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