Why I Chose Fiction Over Fact
Why I Chose Fiction Over Fact
By Larry Kahaner
A friend recently asked me why I have turned to writing novels instead of continuing my non-fiction book career.
The answer is two-fold. First, I wanted to try something different, transferring what I’ve learned from the non-fiction world to novels. Call it a professional challenge; it’s the thrust of this blog.
Second, I’ve been a non-fiction book author all my working life, and I thought I was really making a difference in people’s lives. I have, and I’m proud of my work, but the world has changed.
We may be heading into a post-journalism world (and by ‘journalism’ I mean unbiased, fair reporting and writing that informs people) and my cynicism is growing. Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe, just maybe, fiction may be in the forefront of telling truths that last with us and make us better people.
I’m not the first to notice this, of course. Barack Obama, in his farewell speech cited the character Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird who said: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
How many minds were changed by this simple message in a book read by millions?
How many of us have been moved to think in new ways by classics like Catch-22, Lord of the Flies or any of the current dystopian novels such as the Hunger Games, that warn us about who we might become if we’re not mindful. Consider the parable The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho or almost anything written by Haruki Murakami. They simply make us more aware of others and ourselves.
We cannot remain unchanged after being fully engaged in reading about the life of someone else, especially if that person is made up. If we read the biography of a remarkable person, we see what the author wants us to see. If we read about a fictional character, we can go beyond the author’s description and see ourselves, too. We can put ourselves in their lives instead of watching from the outside. This offers a greater opportunity for introspection and growth.
I believe the power of fiction – books, movies, TV – is becoming stronger than ever as we become more polarized in our consumption of news and non-fiction books. Conservatives read their books; liberals read theirs, but everyone can agree to read an entertaining piece of fiction or watch a compelling movie.
I’m not saying that every story needs to have an earth-shattering, world-changing message. Sometimes a tale is just tale, and that’s fine. And neither am I talking about deliberate, heavy-handed propaganda disguised as fiction. I hate that.
I’m talking about telling a story with a moral, a story that moves us to think beyond our everything assumptions. The story doesn’t have to be true, but the message does.
My hope for my latest book USA, Inc., – aside from being a good read – is that it may inspire people to think more about the damage that occurs from the confluence of greed and power. I confess without shame that my main goal was not to preach but entertain. I just wanted to write a compelling book that got readers to turn the page.
Consider it a twofer.
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