I have always thought myself a non-fiction kind of person. It is primarily what I read, so it is primarily what I write. When I learned that it would be my task this semester to compose a fictional short story for publication, I almost felt like dropping the class. Who could possibly be less qualified to write fiction than myself?
Yet, humans read fiction voraciously and will probably continue to do do so until kingdom come. Why is that? Why is it, that amidst the ebb and flow of society, culture and economics, humans always find a reason for stories? Because humans are creatures created for stories. We are beings that think in narrative form. For millennia, we have operated under this almost biological imperative. The Mesopotamians explained their world in a story, leaving to us the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Egyptians had a need to explain the turn of the sun and the seasons. They told stories about the Sun god Ra and how he rose every day and died every night as the sun set beyond the desert sands. Stories, from the Odyssey to Lord of the Rings, unite peoples and communities under common experience.
The only qualification needed to write fiction is to be human. Because we are human, we will incorporate what we see, know and experience into the stories we tell. People like to talk about their world. The most compelling characters are the ones that are believable and realistic; the ones with whom we can sympathize and admire simultaneously. Likewise, the best descriptions are ones that capture the world in a vivid way. There is something about the way that Charles Dickens portrays the acrid black smog of industrial London or the blood dripping off the blade of a guillotine that makes the reader understand reality. Truly talented authors have a way of seamlessly weaving literary imagination into their own gritty encounters with the world.
Authors who create alternative worlds with fantastical creatures and settings say volumes about humanity, even though they may prefer to whisper instead of shout. Even outside of our own world, human writers can’t help but reveal their humanity. When one reads C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, one may be tempted to think it is about aliens. However, as the hapless main character interacts with other-worldly creatures, he discovers more and more about his own race. It’s not about aliens; it’s about humans. How insightful on the author’s part to remove his character from the world entirely, for it is only when he is comparing two completely dissimilar places can the main character really understand the nature of his own world.
Fiction meets reality as humanity draws from collective past experience in composing their stories. As humans we cultivate stories, but frequently our favorites are the ones that bring us the closest to real life. This cultivation implies caring for what we have already received as well as building upon it.There will always be unexplored aspects of our world and ourselves to share.So why not write a story? The qualifications are minimal. The material is limitless.