Not so long ago, I was reading an article on Barbara Cartland. It was a feature article going through the life story of the novelist who had written more than 700 romance novels during seven decades, making her undisputed queen of a genre.
I still remember a photo the article included. Dressed in a pink gown on a pink bed, ninety-two years old was dictating her next novel to her assistant.
I went, “Wow! This is what I want to do in my old age. Write stories.”
The average life expectancy in Australia is 83 years. By the time I am going to reach my eighties, it will be 93 years. We all need to plan how we will occupy ourselves for three decades after we retire from paid workforce.
You can only do a limited number of things in your eighties — you can watch TV, walk your poodle, do crossword puzzles, read books. Or you can tell stories.
I am choosing to tell stories.
Now, you can tell stories from your life (which most old people do and they are dead right boring), or you can fictionalize them (which gets the message across in an interesting way).
Fiction is more effective than non-fiction. Here is why.
Non-fiction is straightforward.
It helps the reader solve a problem, accomplish a task, or help them learn something new. Its message is clear, concise, and direct. It also has a short shelf life.
Fiction, on the other hand, is eternal. Fairy tales are centuries old. I bet you still remember the fairy tales you heard when you were a child. Religions use stories too. Parables do what scriptures can’t.
Humans have unsatiable hunger for stories. Even as adults, we crave stories as much as we did when we were children.
“Nonfiction reveals the lies, but only metaphor can reveal the truth.” — Ms Forna
Non-fiction appeals to our logic, but fiction touches our hearts.
Stories are how we communicate.
Ever since language has been invented, we have been weaving our hopes, messages, reflections, and insights into stories.
When we read stories, we get to know the characters’ inner lives, which makes us reflect on our own lives. We get drawn into their world. Their troubles become ours. We share their laughter and their tears and walk with them as they muddle along in their journeys.
That is the magic of stories. They help us improve our ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions. They equip us to negotiate complex social relationships in the real world with greater skill.
“Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being…I just think that fiction that isn’t exploring what it means to be human today isn’t good art.” — David Foster Wallace
Fiction helps us connect to our humanity.
Research shows that reading fiction makes us more empathetic. Psychologists at the New School for Social Research, New York, say that reading literary fiction makes us better people.
Fiction is essential to the survival of the human race because it helps us to slip into “the other’s” skin. It builds tolerance because it gives us an opportunity to see the world from different perspectives. It is a shining beacon of hope in an increasingly intolerant world.
Fiction also has the power to instill a sense of wonder in us. Stories can take us to magical places. They jolt us awake when we slip into the rut of the mundane. They liberate us by giving free rein to our imagination. This is not to discount fiction as an escape hatch from reality. — Vineetha Mokkil
A good story gives us a better understanding of ourselves, others, and our society by drawing us into the world created by the writer.
I don’t think there is a better way for a writer to serve humanity than to write fiction.
I have started publishing short stories.
Writing fiction is much harder than writing non-fiction for the obvious reason. You need to imagine a lot — the characters, the plot, the structure, the dialogue, the emotions. But that makes fiction more attractive to me. I love the challenge of it. The ability to create a story that feels true. As if the characters are real people and live next door to you.
I also think fiction writing is the ultimate form of storytelling. Even though (according to Georges Polti) there are only 36 plots, every story even with the same plot is different and original in its own right.
Although the ultimate goal for every fiction writer is to write a full-length novel, short stories are an excellent point to start. I have started writing and publishing short stories so that by the time I reach my eighties I have learned the craft.
I intend to post one every week.