Is Non-fiction really Better than Fiction?

September 25, 2012
By WorldWriter SILVER, San Jose, California
WorldWriter SILVER, San Jose, California
9 articles 0 photos 0 comments

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Is non-fiction better than fiction? Many parents believe that their children would benefit more from reading non-fiction rather than fiction. In my opinion, though, that it not true; fiction is in many ways equal and even better than non-fiction. It is true that non-fiction might provide more facts than fiction, but fiction has many more experiences and lessons to teach, and, in essence, fiction could even be considered more practical in real life than non-fiction.

Fiction is, in a sense, a story of somebody else’s experience, or maybe even a made-up one. That experience may seem trivial and insignificant, but there is always something we can learn from it. In a more different form, that lesson is called the moral. For example, in the fable “The tortoise and the hare”, we learn that arrogance has severe consequences that could cost you a lot more than just a game. Larger fictions such as “The Count of Monte Cristo” have even deeper philosophies behind the storyline, such as integrity, vengeance, and loneliness. Unlike non-fiction, which only provides cold, hard facts, fiction novels take those facts and blend it in with reality, creating a story we not only read but also experience. In this aspect, reading fiction teaches more valuable lessons than non-fiction can ever achieve.

Fiction novels also surpass non-fiction in the sense that they nourish the reader’s imagination. The more fiction one read’s, the more creative he will seem to be. Some may argue that creativity is not practical in reality; what is the use of ideas if they cannot help us survive? Well, that is a mistaken thought, because imagination can actually improve life in many ways. In the novel “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”, written by Jules Verne, there appears the concept of an underwater ship or airplane, what we now identify as a submarine. Although the novel was written in 1870, decent submarines did not actually appear until sometime around the early 20th century. Obviously, some scientific genius had taken the idea from Verne’s story and produced it in real life. This exemplifies how fiction novels can inspire ideas that in turn contribute greatly to advances in technology. Of course, the introduction of submarines would not have been possible without all those non-fiction books teaching us how to create it. However, if the idea hadn’t originated from Verne’s novel, the invention would not have taken place. Therefore, it is ultimately fiction that inspires the remarkable events in reality, and not non-fiction.

It could even be said that the knowledge non-fiction incorporates is so massive that absorbing all that knowledge would be impractical. Because non-fiction incorporates studies such as science, math, and history, there is a vast amount of knowledge that one can gain. Especially in science and math, the possibilities are endless, and children are left thinking that anything is possible. This is a falsehood, because many things are beyond the achievement of mankind, and attempts to conquer such challenges would only cause frustration. One such difficulty was a formula discovered in 1637 by Pierre de Fermat, named “Fermat’s Last Theorem”, which stated that an + bn = cn. From the date it was introduced, 1637, all the way to the late 20th century, in 1995, mathematicians have tried and failed to create a proof for this theorem. In the span of three hundred years, no one successfully proved Fermat’s Last Theorem. As you can see, it can most probably be stated that the failures of non-fictional studies greatly outweigh the successes, and in truth, it might actually be non-fiction which has no practical effect on life.

Fiction, on the other hand, helps children mature faster, and, consequently, has greater impacts on society and reality. In novels such as “Black Boy” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, readers become aware of social issues such as racial discrimination and segregation. Additionally, they also learn lessons from the mistakes the characters in the story make. Such stories, which we call bildungsroman, describe the “coming of age” or maturity of the main character. In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Scout, the main character, matures to the needs of life and society. By the end of a story, she is not just a girl anymore; in fact, she has grown up to actually be capable of making an impact on other lives as well as her own.

While it is widely thought that non-fiction books benefit children more than fiction, there are actually many standards in which the values of fiction greatly outweigh those of non-fiction. As I have stated before, fiction novels not only develop one’s imagination and creativity, but also increase his/her awareness of social injustices and can oftentimes expedite the process of maturity. Therefore, I strongly encourage everyone to think twice whenever anyone states that fiction is not practical in real life, because in truth, fiction may have a remarkable impact on our life. As French philosopher Simone Weil once said, “Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.”

The author's comments:
The next time someone said fiction is childish/unrealistic, he would have to think again!

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This article has 3 comments.

DoingDewey said...
on Aug. 7 2015 at 10:42 am
I agree with you about most of the benefits of fiction you mention, but I think fiction could be praised without putting down nonfiction. I can think of nonfiction that confers every one of the benefits you identify as coming from fiction books. Michio Kaku's Physics of the Future and Future of the Mind are two books that are basically the nonfiction equivalent of Verne's books. He speculates about where science will go in the future in a way that certainly fired my imagination! There are more amazing nonfiction books than I can count that cover important social issues (Ghettoside comes to mind) and the same is true for memoirs that are coming of age stories. Where I strongly disagree with you is your assertion that nonfiction is bad because it teaches children to believe that everything is possible, while fiction makes them mature faster. Anything in nonfiction is, by definition, true. I don't think the truth is nearly as likely to give children false expectations about what is possible as fiction as is! And I think it's more likely to inspire them to do things they really can do - becoming a scientist vs wanting to become a princess for example. That's not to say that I think fiction doesn't help children mature. I'm pretty sure studies have shown that reading fiction builds empathy. I just think nonfiction can do the same thing.

Maximilian said...
on Mar. 2 2015 at 2:32 pm
You say: "many things are beyond the achievement of mankind" - now that's a clear proof of having a lot of imagination, eh? The scientists who couldn't solve that problem, even if they were knowledgeable, they weren't imaginative enough; being imaginative doesn't have to involve fiction. Only by assuming that there is no such concept as 'beyond mankind' can we advance and did we advance as a species, by being headstrong and pushing limits. Long time ago, we didn't have access to other people's real-life stories, but now we do, so I believe that fiction is irrelevant; reality is full of wonder in itself, you can learn lessons from somebody else's real-life experiences and grow from that too. It's better than fiction because it's true. Truth above all.

IsaacR SILVER said...
on Jul. 25 2013 at 6:18 pm
IsaacR SILVER, San Diego, California
7 articles 0 photos 1 comment
Great article! The non-fiction you mentioned was largely academic (mainly scientific and mathematical works), but I think the same idea applies to other forms of non-fiction as well. Recently it seems as though the output of "creative non-fiction" (personal essays, articles, etc.) has matched, and even surpassed, that of fiction in the writing market. Critics (there's a New York Times article about this, titled to the effect of "Truth is Stronger than Fiction") today seem to favor non-fiction over fiction, and a large majority of new writers seem to believe that non-fiction--even as an art form--has more relevance than does fiction. As you said, fiction has many "un-sung" benefits in the practical world, the development of imagination being one of them. There are, of course, many benefits to an active imagination, but there is a greatly important (practical) one spoken of in a quote (I cannot find its author) which states that "the purpose of imagination is not to make the strange familiar, but to make the familiar strange." In other words, a healthy imagination promotes positive social growth through exploration of un-challenged patterns. Quality storytelling and imagination-driven narrative are some of the greatest and most effective forms of art in existence (at least, in my opinion), and they deserve at least as much respect as non-fiction. Great insight, great examples, great article.  


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