Your Fiction Addiction, Part 2

Dec 2, 2019 | Writing

Read Part 1 here.

I’ll start by thanking you for coming back.

I’ll follow that up by saying that the answer to your fiction addiction is not pleasant, and you should be prepared for the worst.

With all that out of the way, let’s continue.

Last Time, on Mr. Horne’s Book of Secrets

I explained how fiction, as we know it today is a relatively recent phenomenon. Modern fiction displaced mythology as the primary form of literature. And that changed was marked by the shift from oratory narration to modern prose writing.

Naturally, being able to experience the story from within a character’s POV made literature that much more immersive, and gave modern fiction a leg up over the mythology of old. And even though this practice faced a vicious backlash, and books of fiction were banned, the practice flourished in secret.

But the coming rise of fiction would only be possible if the world changed. Which, amazingly enough, it did.

Fiction Rises as the World Improves

Or rather, fiction rose because the world improved.

Modern fiction has its roots in the Renaissance. And, like so much else that came out of the Renaissance, it probably couldn’t have come earlier.

School of Athens, by Raphael
Makes you wonder what Plato and Socrates would think of modern-day educational institutions.

Because back in the dark ages, when you constantly had to fret about which plague would do you in before the next war could claim you, there wasn’t really any time to take up reading. You were too busy surviving.

But as surviving became less and less of a problem, the arts—fiction included—became more of a realistic pastime. And you’ll notice that the wealthy and well to do were the first to embrace it. Wherever the human standard of living increased, the appreciation of fiction was sure to follow, first among the nobility, and then trickling down to the commoners.

You see this trend continue through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, European expansion, the industrial revolution, and into the twentieth century. As each sector of society had their fortunes expanded, the consumption of fiction grew in proportionality. In time, fiction was even being written for that least powerful faction of society—children. And today, it is a pastime enjoyed by all.

But that is only because life has become so safe.

The Human Need for Danger

Which brings us to the cause of your fiction addiction: you are too safe.

From your ancestors, you inherited countless generations of instinctual information. And those instincts prepare you to live in a dangerous world.

But what happens when the world suddenly becomes much less dangerous?

I’ll grant you that we still have problems, perils, and dangers even today, but can any of those compare to what human beings experienced in the past? We, with our running water, refrigeration, antibiotics and vaccines, and mass transit. Can it ever be said of us that we are prepared for real danger?

You are safe (probably—I don’t actually know you). You live in a futuristic world where the meat comes in plastic-wrapped packages and band-aids are made for every size and shape of boo boo.

Ah, but instinct still has a hold on us. It doesn’t let us trust safety. Safety, it tells us, is a trap. Our suspicious brains don’t let us get too comfortable. So they seek out danger, in an attempt to connect to something real.

Fiction fills this need. It allows us to experience any of the three kinds of danger:

  1. Physical: threats to our lives and/or health.
  2. Spiritual: threats to our purpose and special place in existence.
  3. Social: threats to our reputation and standing in society.

And we can do this without actually putting ourselves in harms way.

But It’s still an Addiction

You might not suspect this from watching or reading the news, but the world is actually getting safer. Violent crimes may spike in certain areas, but overall they are in a decades-long slump. The same goes for medical dangers such as incurable diseases.

And as the world gets safer, your need for danger will only become more pronounced, meaning your fiction addiction is doomed to get worse.

Some people don’t even turn to fiction. Modern adrenaline junkies chase real risks and extreme dangers just to feel alive. Your fiction addiction might be protecting you from becoming one of these people…or it might be the gateway drug that leads you to pursue more realistic dangers.

And I can’t tell you which it’s going to be for you.

How this Applies to a Creator of Fiction (aka Writer)

The time has come to reveal a secret. The golden rule of writing fiction is nothing more or less than this:

The more convincingly you can simulate danger, the more successful your fiction will be.

Nobody wants to read safe. And if the only conflict in your story is that the characters might have to sell the farm…so they can move to a bigger, nicer farm, then you’ve got nothing to offer your audience.

Fiction consumers are paying you for danger, and you had better provide it to them. The writer collects, packages, and markets artificial danger. It is your career and your purpose—not so different from bottling water or canning food. It’s quite the utilitarian career, and you’d better be ready to treat it as such. Otherwise you won’t last long in this business.

And once you understand this secret, writing becomes easy. The only question you ever need to ask yourself is “how do I make this story more dangerous to the characters”.

After that, you can’t go wrong.

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