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Monday, January 10, 2011

Does Fiction Matter?

The Saturday Evening Post asked me if fiction matters. Here's my answer. (And if you're a new reader of the blog, Hi there. Don't steal nothin').

Does Fiction Matter?
By Brad Meltzer

Simple question, right? Does fiction matter?

As a novelist, I’m supposed to say yes. I have to say yes. But. I hate when someone says I have to do something.

So fiction doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t.

It’s not real. It’s all made up. It’s just the imagined, make-believe ramblings of people whose only real qualification is access to a pencil. Indeed, by definition, fictional stories are, in the words of my sister, “total BS.” They never really happened - and therefore should have no impact on our everyday existence.

But then I keep thinking: Why do we ban books?

Fiction’s just nonsense, right? It’s inconsequential. Just made up.

So. Why do we ban books?

Let me tell you why.

Because books are powerful. Stories are powerful. They’re recipes made of hopes and dreams and fears. Stories transport us to new places, and show us things we could never see, and reveal the darkest parts of our souls.

Stories educate us, terrify us, and even protect us.

Jay Gatsby was the one who warned us of the dangers of our own excesses during the 1920s. Superman swooped to the rescue and gave America hope during the terrifying early days of World War II. Scout and Atticus showed us our racism, but also showed us the people who we aspire to be - who we want to be - and who we can be. And even today, it’s Harry Potter who reminds generations of young and old that magic still exists.

And that’s why books get banned. That’s why they ban Maya Angelou and Judy Blume and Mark Twain. Because stories change us.

In Huckleberry Finn, people thought they were getting the story about a boy. Instead, Mark Twain gave them a manifesto. A challenge. An uncompromising fistfight about injustice and slavery. People thought they were getting a book. But Mark Twain knew that if you really want to teach people something, you need to tell them a story.

The best part is, it’s nothing new. Fables have taught morality since the very first story was told by the very first storyteller.

Fiction is how we share - and not just how we share our dreams - it’s how we share ourselves. And perhaps more important, how we connect.

When Alexander McCall Smith, a fiction writer, was faced with vocal readers who disagreed with what he’d done to the imaginary characters in his book, he became all too aware that “the world of fiction and the world of real flesh-and-blood people are not quite as separate as one might imagine. Writing is a moral act: What you write has a real effect on others, often to a rather surprising extent.”

I love that. I love that the world of make-believe lives so darn close to the real one. And not just to crazy people, like the woman who writes to me in only gold lowercase letters. Indeed, as my fellow mystery writer P.D. James points out, something as simple as the good guy catching the bad guy at the end of the story is exactly why the traditional detective story “confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible, and moral universe."

I know, I know - that sounds overblown. Too philosophical.

So let’s just cut to the facts: According to the Library of Congress, after the Bible, y’know what’s cited as the number one book that’s made a difference in people’s lives? To Kill A Mockingbird.

Read that again. Number 1: the Bible. Number 2: To Kill A Mockingbird.

Mockingbird is fiction.


Total BS.

This is where Atticus says, “I rest my case.” But for the stubborn few who still think fiction doesn’t matter, I want you to imagine a world without it. A world without Romeo and Juliet, Don Quioxte, or Ebenezar Scrooge…Sherlock Holmes, Captain Ahab, or Dr. Frankenstein…a world without Charlie Brown, Batman, or the Cat in the Hat. It’s a world without fiction - a world without dreams and -


That’s a great idea for a book.

Brad Meltzer is the bestselling author of The Inner Circle. His new TV show, Brad Meltzer’s Decoded, is on History Channel - and deals with real life mysteries. Not fictional ones.


Krissy said...

I love your article! Fiction really does matter, that explains why I have been in love with books all my life! Just got introduced to your work!! I love "The Inner Circle"!! In my opinion needs to go straight to the box office!!!!

Dr. Benjamin Anthony said...

This is something I struggle with and stops me in my tracks. Why take all my time to make up stories, and things that aren't real.
You got right to the important thing here, fiction is a reflection of ourselves, maybe it helps us see ourselves better?
Now I gotta get to work, thanks for the words!

Valerie Strawmier said...

Brad, that is fantastic! I love that you inspire me to put my pencil to paper and create "total b.s." You're amazing and wonderful, and I love how you teach others to follow you!

Jennifer said...

I have always been a lover of literature. I feel that fiction is the basis of human nature, the perfect balance to all of the facts. Any time I am feeling run down with the "Facts of Life", I break out "The Ransom of Red Chief" or "the Night the Bed Fell" and am instantly ok and ready to face another day. Enjoy all of your work, but especially like "Decoded". Keep on with the facts and the fiction!

Peter Von Brown said...

Very well said. Thanks for posting such a wonderfully written argument to what we should all (but sadly don't necessarily)realize. I especially love the part about the depth of caring people have for fictional people. Been there, done that - both to others' and my own. ;)


Viviane Brentanos said...

Wonderful article.

M.M. Bennetts said...

Brilliantly said!

Thank you so much for this. I've been trying to get a similar point across for over a year on my blog, about why I write historical fiction, but have lacked your incisive elan.

Kimberly Menozzi said...

And another "Amen!" from a believer in the crowd. This is one of the reasons I, as a writer, do what I do.

Thank you for getting the point across and using examples so many can relate to.

If you don't mind, I'll be sharing this with some friends.

Anonymous said...

Of course fiction matters - it's, many times, not just entertainment, but how we deal with "real" situations and put in the forward that the people are all fictional.

#2. the Bible is #1 - and it is a very LOT OF Fiction. and what isn't fiction is a single persons view from their perspective point of what happened. Besides that, there is no book otherwise that has so many stories of everything that sells books: sex, blood, war, seduction, mystery, and myth.

Anonymous said...

My father was a passionate amateur historian, and my housewife-mother owns more medical books than most doctors. They've always been mystified as to why so much of what I read is "just fiction."

But a couple of years before my father passed, we read "To Kill A Mockingbird" together, finishing in the wee hours of morning at the kitchen table. When Papa read aloud the final page and closed the book, his eyes filled up with tears. "That is so true," he said. "That has the ring of truth."

So my father finally did get it. Thank you for explaining it so well for those who still don't!

Anonymous said...

Well said! You are AWESOME!!!

Karen K.

jilly said...

Wonderful article!

Loomit said...

The Bible is nearly all fiction and millions believe it as yes, fiction matters. Without it, how would we escape our shitty real lives?

Leslie said...

Yes, yes and a million times - yes!

JennT said...

One could say that one person's truth is another person's fiction. Without all versions of truth/fiction the world would be a boring place.

JennT said...

One could say that one person's truth could be another person's fiction. Just saying. What isn't "total BS", DECODED rocks!

Anonymous said...

Thier is truth to what you have shown and I feel its much deeper. I do misc. reshearch myself an believe in many off those you spoke of. The letter H heaven > hell (Both) the way its carved in a tree to me is actually "Broad is the way narrow is the path" contact me if you wish i'll email you back.

Caratunk Girl said...

When I first started reading this, the first thing I though was Uncle Tom's Cabin. Granted, based on truth, but still, it is important fiction in US history...Arguably fiction that changed America.

Fiction does matter. It matters so much, and can change so much. I loved what you said about fiction being how we share and how we connect..

Oh. Just started watching Decoded. Love it.

Kelly R said...

This is fantastic! As an assistant librarian, and director of youth services of a small rural library facing big budget cuts, I wish everyone would read your article. Then all the naysayers would realize what we do is so very crucial.

Audrey R. said...

Fiction is what you get when you aren't afraid to ask "What if." What if there were a door to Hell in D.C.? What if a meteor hit the moon and through the world off kilter? (Which, ironically was the book I read on my trip to Florida the day after your final episode of decoded aired). If it weren't for fiction a lot of bordem would persist but worse a lot more ignorance would rule this world.

boros1124 said...

The Mark Twain is very good metaphor. Many people do not like to analyze. There are poems of Ady. Symbolist poet. Few people love it because every single word with different meanings, which may be attached to the era in which he lived. And even in private life as well. But if you read the poems, all you see is a flower that is about.

Lado Rock KG said...

Dear Brad,
First sorry about my bad english. Im not a Rosacrucian, but im very curious person as you. I felt that your team didn't mention on the program about the Statue of Liberty something that every Rosacrusian Know: That the Statue of Liberty is the "Columba"(or Columbia) of Rosacrucian's Ritual. In the tradidional ritual of the A.M.O.R.C. there's a girl(witch have to be a 11 until 14 years old) that hold a "Torch" or be named as "Rosacrucian's Torchlight" and open every ceremony of this mystical order. Is so closed that Statue of Liberty represents that no how would be forget. The great principle of the Rosacrucian is "The greater tolerance in the strictest independence" witch is means "FREEDOM AND LIBERTY". The base of every Rosacrucian Knowledge is based on the "Cabalah"(Number 7..see?), on the Egypcian's Book of The Dead and the tradition Hermes Trimegisto witch includes the Cards of The Egypcian and Gypsy "Tarots"(witch is a resume of any aspect of rosacrucian's Knowledge).Its so easy to take this kind of information today that i dont know why you dont metion it on your series. And the question is that all american culture is full of Rosacrucian and Masonic symbolism and i wonder how you americans never question this simbolism. Because they are no Cristian symbolism in the american culture(did you see some crucifix or a Jesus in a mountai like here in Brazil?) and the oposit is more closed to the Jewish Culture than ever. I Repeat, im not a rosacrucian member, because if i told you this probably i was demissed of this fraternity. But its true..The American People must learn about your roots and origin.
All The Best.
Carlos Eduardo Guariente
Marketing Mananger
South of Brazil

Anonymous said...

I find fiction does matter. usually in some form the writer takes reality or fact and puts a spin on it to make it fiction. you have to look between the lines to really seewhats going on in the writers head ... thanks for the article Brad

alec casciotti said...

I do agree that books are a way to learn somthing i and the goverment bans it somtimes because theres some things they dont want us to know and when they ban a book I wanna know why. Also i love the inner circle one of the best books ive read.

nanna said...

sometime in august i wrote an entry on my blog about your books:

this was after i read 5 of your books and got addicted to the pages. thanks for giving your readers such great reads.

Anonymous said...

Which of us never loved a bed time story? From what i'm told a story is fiction because it is a story. Non fictional drama is best left for around the camp fire after dark, when everyone is yawning and ready for bed. It will help bring sleep faster.

I loved the way you almost sucked me in at first, i really don't have time for fiction. I'm not a fiction reader. I'm not much of a reader at all. Almost came to an agreement there is no use for fiction. Then it hit me when i went back 50 some odd years. I loved the radio shows i would listen to at night going to sleep. On them big old radios. We had no television yet this was the early 50's. Not everyone was lucky enough to have a T.V. set. Yes fiction, where in our lives do we abandon fiction for real life drama that brings on early onset depression plus all the other malodys of every day life.

I'm 63 years old and i'm just begining to enjoy comic book heros for the first time in my life. Hey, Huck finn was my hero, i rode his raft every day in school as i waited for the clock to move to get me out of the class room. I hated shool so much, i needed something to latch onto to get me through the day till the bell rang.

YES - Fiction is very importent.

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