‘Why should I read fiction?’ This was a question put by one of our students in Spain, a couple of weeks ago.
It’s a good question, and a reminder for me that not everyone has the passion for stories that I share with my fellow Dark Angels tutors, John Simmons and Stuart Delves. People read for many reasons. It may be to learn or to become better informed, it may simply be to be entertained, and it doesn’t have to involve fiction. Even if they do read novels, it may not necessarily be for any reason other than to be caught up in a ‘good yarn’.
Nevertheless, the question invited us to reflect on the fact that there are deeper reasons for reading fiction, good fiction at any rate; and since it was seriously put it deserved a serious answer. We (the tutors) hit our stride quickly: because it helps you to see the world around you in a new light; because it reveals universal truths; because it highlights moral dilemmas; because it reflects what it means to be human; because it stretches your heart and mind; because it challenges your view of things; because it helps you develop and grow – these, from memory, were just some of the reasons we gave.
But what have discussions about fiction got to do with business writing? one might ask. After all, isn’t business writing about facts and the hard realities of commercial or organisational life? Well, yes, but to whom do those facts and hard realities apply? People. People whose lives wherever they are, at home or at work, involve searching for universal truths, facing moral dilemmas, reflecting on what it means to be human, and so on. I rest my case …
Yesterday morning during a workshop I was asked a different question, yet one which seems go hand-in-hand with the first: ‘How do I become a better writer? Would reading help? And if so, what – newspapers, novels…?’
Yes, I answered, and yes again. Reading does help, in fact it’s probably the best way there is to become a better writer. Reading good writing, in the quality press, in serious non-fiction, and perhaps most of all in good literary fiction, is an invitation to anyone with the least curiosity to investigate how it’s done. Syntax, vocabulary, rhythm, texture, colour, energy, all can be learnt from what we read, and the more we read the sooner we stop learning and start breathing it in.
But most importantly of all, reading – for the story or the style – teaches us that the best writers, in any field whatsoever, are those that are deeply preoccupied with being human. For them, making the connection is everything.
lovely piece Jamie. As I explained a few weeks back to a large life science client, I have this strange belief that even scientists are human…
I totally agree with everything you have said Jamie, but with two caveats. Sometimes, when you really want to write something, it's better to leave reading others' stuff aside for a while, lest the other writer's voice should dominate your own and you end up with a sort of pastiche that comes from somewhere other than inside. Secondly, when trying to write, it's often good to avoid the greats of the genre as it can be way too depressing to stare at your own words in the harsh light of what they managed to come up with 🙂
Wise words gently written. Consider me sold on fiction. Might even embrace a few demons into the bargain !!
Bang on target, Jamie. One of the best ways of learning about writing is reading a lot, and getting a sense of what works and doesn't. Especially true for dialogue, I think.