Why I Prefer Literature to Non-Fiction

In writing the NICU journal there were a lot of thoughts that floated around my head that never made it to its pages. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I could never get those thoughts completely ironed out and the boys came home before I could. There can’t be a NICU journal without children in the NICU. Another thing that would occur to a lot of these thoughts that got left on the cutting room floor is a more interesting thought would take their place or there would be some event or episode with one of the boys and that would take precedent. And often times the thoughts were too similar to ones I had previously and I didn’t want to keep treading over the same ground.

This one, however, I still wish to write about. Even if it still isn’t a fully formed thought and something I am going to have to struggle through. Some times the writing flows and you can write 1000 words or more in a matter of minutes and other times it is an effort just to put 250 words on paper. The reason I am reluctant to write out this thought is I do not view myself as worthy. When talking about the nature of fiction and writing itself who exactly am I? I have exactly zero published works, haven’t won a writing contest since the third grade and that was from a box of cereal, and while a few of my blog posts have been received well I am not anyone of any acclaim. The reason this thought never made it in the journal is because I am of the belief that I am not worthy or it or that it was meant for someone else.

I have always preferred literature. The reason for that is it teaches us through stories. If you wanted to learn about World War I you could read a history book that recounts the details in chronological order providing only the facts with little or no coloring. Or you could read All Quiet on the Western Front, A Farewell to Arms, and the poetry of Wilfred Owen. While the latter won’t provide all the facts it will give the feeling. The feeling of what it meant to be a human living through World War I. We can do this with almost any historical event and when the choice is offered I would choose to learn by history from the literature section over the history section.

I have read excellent history books, but those are few and far between. Rare is the history writer that knows how to carry a narrative and deliver real events accurately while giving them life. It is much easier to build a narrative and add life if the focus starts small, on individual characters, involuntary participants to history.

Here is where I struggle to write this, because if I were to pick up a book from a section that isn’t literature then it is going to be from the history section. After literature it is my favorite section in the bookstore. I do not mind reading history. I do not dislike non-fiction (except cultish self-help books). What I believe is going on with me is a symptom of the internet age. If I were to post on social media that I prefer chocolate to vanilla all of a sudden I would be attacked for hating vanilla when that is not at all what I said. So in saying I prefer literature to non-fiction I am assuming others are going to read it as my disliking non-fiction when that is not the case (except self-help books).

Fiction is the intersection of the real and the imagined. Any great work of fiction starts with the question of what if. The change from reality can be large or small, but the writer draws from their own reality to create a new reality. This is almost a guaranteed way out of writers block. Take a single moment in your life and re-write it. Take the moment you met your significant other or best friend and have it turn out different. What if is a powerful question when applied to writing. It is the nature of all narrative fiction. Even the most wild fantasies start with the question of what if. And when you think of the power of that question envision the intersection of reality and imagination in your mind. View it as a crossroads and not a forking path. What if is such a powerful question that it twists the roadway and not only changes the path forward but the one back as well. in changing the forward progress of a moment you also change the backstory that led up to that moment.

I am again overwhelmed with feelings on inadequacy in expressing these thoughts and I think you can see why they have floated around, half-formed, in my mind for the past several months. I could never get them to gel. They wouldn’t settle into a manageable form.

My ultimate belief in this is that there is nothing that cannot be learned from a novel. Think about the amount of research that goes into learning the history and backstory of a setting and then imagine having that history and research drip-fed to you through characters as the progress in a narrative. I’ve read enough Raymond Chandler and Michael Connelly that there is a part of me that would recognize sights in Los Angeles I’ve never seen in person. I’m sure you’ve read a book or watched a movie and then visited its setting, driven or walked by a landmark, and thought oh it’s that place.

Here is the problem with half-formed thoughts. They become misshapen and deformed. They take up space that would be better served by new thoughts or for rolling around ideas you know will work. This was not one of those, but I had to jettison it from my mind. Any bit of intelligence or insight found in this essay is purely accidental. I assure you it will be awhile before I revisit this topic in writing. I might however ask someone what they are reading, be told a self-help book, and ask them why they won’t read a novel. I swear to you they are full of life lessons and it will be delivered by a far more interesting cast of characters.

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