I recently read a quote by French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty:
“We know not through our intellect but through our experience.”
Since I automatically relate everything to writing, I immediately realized this theory points out an added value of fiction.
Books entertain readers with stories that transport us to new and different places and give us vicarious experiences. From the safety of an easy chair or a blanket spread on a beach, we live through dangerous events and deal with threatening situations. We live the book vicariously through identification with the protagonist and experience problems and challenges that may be distant from our own life or may appear tomorrow.
In every good book, the protagonist is faced with a problem. Whether they want to survive, escape, succeed, or find peace, every character will face barriers and be forced to choose between various actions in their quest to reach their goal. But by the end of every good story, we, as readers, have seen the character persevere and learned a method of coping based on how the character solved his or her problem. Some day, we might be able to employ that solution if we’re ever faced with a similar dilemma. We know from experience, even if our experience was vicarious.
As writers, we give readers virtual experiences. We are teachers. We have a responsibility to make our characters problems serious and their actions plausible. Unless we’re writing vampires or aliens, we should strive to write about situations that are true to life and provide solutions readers can accept as real.
Fiction teaches and helps us to know more about life.
The writer learns by asking ‘what if’, imagining, and writing.
The reader learns a useful method of coping by vicarious experience.
And all this new knowledge comes from the pages of that wonderful digital or paper invention we call a book.