Fiction is the Best Non-Fiction

linear_thinkingWhen I tell people in my science classes that my elective this semester is Pre-18th century literature, they give me the same look and say at least one of the following:

  • Oh, I hate writing./I’m a terrible writer.
  • I don’t like reading.
  • Oh, that must suck.

No, it doesn’t suck, because why else would I be taking the course?

I love science and I love stories. I can’t give up either of them.

Science is rooted in logic. What makes science science is that there is a set list of rules, and by following those rules and applying logic, problems can be solved. Any good scientist is amazed by these rules–it is why they took science. For example, I’m amazed by that fact that:

  • electrons have mass and charge, but no size
  • the basis of life is the biological tertiary code called DNA
  • electric fields create magnetic fields, and vice versa

Storytelling is also rooted in logic. The difference is, you get to make up the rules. And what’s more exciting than that? Consider Harry Potter. The rules are as follows:


  • Magic exists.
  • Wizards exist.
  • They have magical powers.
  • They use wands.
  • Wands have consciousnesses.
  • Wizard children in UK go to a magical castle-school called Hogwarts.
  • It is possible to rip your soul into pieces.
  • It is possible to take those pieces and stick them into inanimate objects (and keep them inanimate).
  • These objects are called Horcruxes.


And the list goes on and on. Obviously, if you look at the list with no idea what Harry Potter is, you’d think it’s absurd to just accept it. And perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to take fiction seriously—there is too much that is unrealistic.

But on the other hand, these rules are pretty interesting. Consider this: when you first learn about the alphabet and spelling, they tell you:

  • There are two kinds of letters: vowels and consonants.
  • There must be a vowel in every word.
  • A word doesn’t need a consonant.
  • S sounds like “es.”
  • W sounds like “duh-vul-yoo”
  • Y is sometimes a vowel, and sometimes a consonant.
  • Q is usually followed by the letter u.
  • In the word “dumb”, b is silent.
  • C has a soft sound so it sounds like S, or a hard sound so it sounds like K
  • “PH” is pronounced like “f”.
  • X.

I leave X as it is self-explanatory. It took my first grade teacher at least five minutes to explain what X sounds like, and by the end of it, she just said “the last sound in the word ‘fox’.”

The point is, once you accept those rules, everything else makes sense, and fiction has to make sense.

At the cost of sounding cheesy, you can make up anything in your mind. You can build the world to your own rules…and then apply logic to see a story unfold. The  interesting part is that most of the time, we end up using logic that we use with science or law, because how we respond normally to un-normal experiences is what makes stories exciting.

In stories, people can fly or perform magic, animals can talk, fairies exist. And once those premises can be accepted, regular logic is applied and boom! STORY! (Well, no, you still have characters and setting and plot—all of which are subject to logic.)

And in that way, fiction is the best kind of non-fiction.

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” -Tom Clancy


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