Your Fiction Addiction, Part 1

Nov 25, 2019 | Writing

Do you ever ask yourself why you enjoy books? Or any kind of fiction?

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this image. It’s useful whenever posing a question.

It’s okay if you haven’t thought about it. The point is to enjoy what you’re reading, after all. And while it’s certainly possible to dissect that particular frog, you don’t want it dying in the process.

Which reminds me, I’m going to have to send flowers to its family.

Asking the Forbidden Question

Because the time has come to investigate what may be the reason for your fiction addiction. And the answer I’ve arrived at is a particularly unpleasant one.

Even so, the idea merits exploration. And it’s not like you can stop me from saying it.

To begin with, let’s acknowledge fiction’s relatively recent rise in popularity.

A Distinction Worth Making

Claiming that fiction only recently became popular is bound to draw some guffaws. After all, stories have always existed, and people knew that much of what they were hearing was fictitious. Geoffrey of Monmouth had readers even back in the day, as did Aesop, and Virgil, and every bard who ever sang the Eddas.

But—and I know this is going to draw objections—none of those people actually wrote fiction.

I will give you a moment to be shocked and outraged.

But bear with me, because there is an important distinction to be made here. People like Geoffrey of Monmouth and Virgil did not write fiction because what they were actually writing was mythology.

Think I’m splitting hairs? Then consider this: do libraries shelve mythology and fiction together?

Practices can vary between libraries, but it is common practice in modern systems to separate mythology from fiction, due to one glaring difference that keeps them in their own categories.

I am talking about prose.

The Dark Art

For a long time, in literature, stories were highly pageantized. By which I mean that the story was presented as a series of events. And this was usually done in verse. But even when told in freeform paragraphs, the story was a pageant, not a play.

Now, I’m sure you know the difference between pageantry and drama. A pageant has a single narrator spew exposition while the actors pantomime the story. A play has self-actualized characters speak to each other, rather than the audience.

A play can also have characters say and do things that are not relevant to the overarching plot. They may talk about themselves or their surroundings in a way that reveals their character, whereas in a pageant, whatever words they say (which are pantomimed by the actor but vocalized by the narrator) are always pronouncements. It’s oration, rather than real dialogue.

And this gulf is also seen in the divide between fiction and mythology. A modern fiction book gives the reader a personal look inside the character. They will hear the character’s thoughts and memories, and see them do human things for the sake of making them more human. This kind of narrative has come to be synonymous with the word “prose”.

But in a book of mythology, the characters only exist to serve the plot. The only real flesh and blood person in the story is the narrator, and the only one he’s addressing is you, the reader. That’s why the words “Once upon a time” are a dead giveaway that you’re reading mythology, Those aren’t the kinds of words one person says to another in real life.

And that’s the key distinction: fiction—even fantasy fiction—emulates real life. There is the idea that these characters could be real people, even if they’re living out an unrealistic scenario.

The Early Heretics

When literature took the first baby steps away from mythology and towards fiction, there was a great deal of pushback. Treating imaginary characters as if they were real people? Giving them hopes and aspirations and having them actually talk to each other?

How scandalous!

And so you had your Chaucer, your Cervantes, and others start producing works of dramatized, non-mythological, prosaic fiction.

Naturally, they were all banned. Can’t have fictional characters interact with each other and their environment as if it was a real world. That would make it impossible for the masses to understand the difference between reality and imagination. And isn’t there something inherently dishonest about making characters seem alive?

Yet, as so often happens with censorship, it didn’t work. With the passing of centuries, people sought out fiction more and more, while mythology was increasingly relegated to the back burner of art and literature.

And You’ll Find Out Why…Next Week

Sorry to cut it short. But your fiction addiction is a serious medical condition, and not the kind of subject that can be explored in a single blog post.

Stay tuned for part 2.

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