A commentary on the best tool for the topic: fiction or nonfiction?
|"Invalid Item" Entry
As I consider what to write for this month’s "Invalid Item" contest, the first question to I must answer is whether to write a nonfiction essay or a story. My first foray into the contest was an essay and the subsequent pair were fictional stories.
Why the change? Simple. Each has its advantages. Nonfiction is direct. It is clear. It is unambiguous. It is not a parable. It doesn’t require the translation of allegory. There is no search for meaning, where a reader might misinterpret the author’s intent, one of the principal drawbacks of fiction. What you see is what you get. For that very reason, however, when read by someone who disagrees, its more immediate clarity can result in the complete rejection of its message without true consideration by the reader. This is the most noteworthy drawback of nonfiction.
Fiction’s primary advantage is that it forces the reader to follow a train of thought for much longer before hardening against it should it run counter to his or her normal sensibilities. Because its world is a creation that must be read and followed to be comprehended, it forces the reader to follow the author’s thinking much longer before synthesizing its meaning and evaluating whether to reject its points. As a result, it can be far more effective in reaching a person whose mind is relatively closed to an idea.
Nonfiction can be very effective in conveying ideas about noncontroversial topics, however. In my first "Invalid Item" entry, "Love at First Sight" , regarding romance writers, I elected to go with nonfiction. Why? I don’t know of many people with inflexible opinions whether “love at first sight” belongs in romance novels. Discussing it frankly is efficient and isn’t likely to be met with close-mindedness.
I went with fiction in "Absolute Truth" for the “absolute truth in science and religion” prompt because anything regarding religion has great potential to run into entrenched ideas and unwillingness to see other perspectives. Religion is a core belief for many and has tentacles into surrounding opinions that make them very rigid. I felt that fiction would be a far more effective means of communicating on that topic.
Many don’t want to read about religion. Those that do, don’t often like it mixed with quantum physics. I felt that framing the story as a bar joke initially, with a sexy bartender to boot, might result in more readers diving into the rest of the story and hearing the crux of its message. It didn’t work particularly well, though it may have garnered more readers than it otherwise would have. I’m not sure. My other fictional story about tolerance, The Filigree Ring, was far more popular in terms of views. I probably shouldn’t have rambled on about quantum computing. Queen Elizabeth is probably more interesting to the literary crowd than is Shrödinger’s cat. Live and learn…
I also went with fiction for "Art Begins to See" and the “what is and isn’t art” prompt. There are many, my former self among them, who don’t consider a red dot, in the center of a canvas, art. However, I changed my mind on the subject several years ago. I wanted to create an environment similar to that which changed my mind. I felt that fiction would be more effective in achieving my goal—to persuade those whose minds were closed to appreciating it to give modern art a chance. I didn’t receive a lot of feedback on that story either, but it did receive a decent number of views. If even one person’s mind was pried open a bit as a result of my story, then it achieved something worthwhile.
That brings us back to my fourth "Invalid Item" entry. This one. I don’t believe that fiction versus nonfiction is a controversial topic with a closed-minded audience. Given that, which method of communication did I decide on?
Nonfiction, of course!
While each can be an effective tool for communication, nonfiction is clear and efficient, a hammer for a topic that is a nail to be driven home directly. When will I next pull out my fictional screwdriver? When the topic is a screw that needs to wind its way into the reader. :)