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The effect of non-fiction is obvious; anyone can tell how the Communist Manifesto affected the world, but the response to fictional stories is much more subtle. Fiction is not typically taken seriously, since it is seen primarily as entertainment where non-fiction is seen as fact. Even in its subtlety, fiction ...
Legends and myths were the first fiction, although in their time, fiction was not simply entertainment: it served a far greater purpose. One of those purposes was to explain the world. Even the African legend of fire taught something: the respect and dangers of fire. Most myths have a much more obvious moral, such as the story of the selfish woman who was turned into a woodpecker or the Golden Touch. Greed was a common theme in these stories, in The Selfish Woman Who was Turned Into a Woodpecker, the Apostle Peter turns a wicked woman into a woodpecker, and in The Golden Touch, a king learns the meaning of too much gold. The epic of the hero, an immortal pattern used in most hero stories, guides the hero of the story and the hero in the reader through the hardships of becoming a man. Another common theme is that all good things have their own rewards. It doesn’t matter if the hero is a poor man or the youngest son, if he is kind to all and careful to do what’s right, he will be rewarded.
Doing the right thing was a constant debate in 1852, the year Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published as Life Among the Lowly. The author, Harriet Stowe, was inspired to write the novel while living in Cincinnati, where she met fugitive slaves who had escaped either through or from Kentucky. Working in the kitchen with servants such as Zillah certainly changes beliefs about the differences between whites and blacks. In the spring of 1850, Harriet heard the congressional debates over a new law further intensifying the penalties on anyone harboring fugitive slaves as well as denying those slaves’ basic rights. “She wrote to a magazine editor that, ‘that time is come when even a woman or child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak’”. The result was a series of short stories of slaves under physical or psychological assault, including Uncle Tom himself. These magazine pieces were gathered together and published under the name of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; after the first year of sales, Uncle Tom’s Cabin had sold 300,000 copies in America and over a million in Britain. A decade after the book was printed, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln is said to have received Harriet Stowe with the greeting, “Is this the little woman who made this great war?” he did so with good reason, as it is commonly believed that it was her novel that paved the way for his election.
How can a novel pulled off the fiction shelf effect people so strongly? Many studies have been made on the subject with powerful results. One of these studies, by Ulrike Altmann, focused mainly on the effect of fiction on the mind. Because of the scientific nature of the study, it required a control to see the difference. That control was non-fiction. In the study, twenty-four people entered an MRI machine to monitor brain usage while they read eighty short, narrative stories. The stories were randomly labeled fictional or factual; the label was shown before the story was presented on the monitor. According to the MRI activation, stories labeled factual caused action-based areas of the brain to engage; whereas, when read as fictional, areas more concerned with emotion and simulation were stimulated. These same areas are those associated with empathy and understanding other people. Thus, according to the study, non-fiction affects what the reader knows, and fiction affects what the reader feels, especially about the characters or author.
This can have both positive and negative effects on daily life. It can cause the reader to better understand the characters and author, such as with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or it can cause a subconscious expectation or discrimination. Psychology professors David Rapp and Richard Gerrig did a study discovering “that readers create such rich representations in their own minds about characters in a novel that they create their own expectations about their behavior based on what they know about them…” . In other words, stories create empathy for their characters’ struggles and frustrations. Keith Oatley did his own personal study on the empathy of readers using a famous Anton Chekhov short story, The Lady With the Dog. He decided to perform his blind study on his students as he is a professor at the University of Toronto. He gave the story to half of his students in its original fictional form and to the other half in a documentary-style narrative. “He examined the readers’ personality traits and emotions before and after reading both versions; those who had read the original short story had greater changes in personality. They even actually became a little like the characters that they identified with in the story”. To summarize, stories engage a deeper understanding than their limited plots will show; they allow the reader to actually feel what the people in the book feel.
A common plot in fictional novels is the idea that the world the characters are living in isn’t real, that they are somehow inside a simulation, but the studies focusing on changes made by fictional stories have discovered that there is more truth in these science fiction plots than ever expected. Professional storytellers have noticed for years that when telling a story, the listeners act in unison. Scientists at Princeton searched deeper into this phenomenon. Using MRI technology, they discovered that the listeners’ minds and the speakers repeated the exact same brain pattern; they felt and reacted in unison. The neuroscientist Jeffery Zacks extended this study and found that “vividly narrated stories activate the same brain areas that process the various components of real life experience. ‘…We create a mental simulation of the events described by the story.’” There is no surprise that readers become a bit like the characters in the story they are reading. Their senses, their emotions, and even their minds have transformed temporarily to match that of the author’s. This knowledge was used by writers even before there was a study to prove it. In a writing advice website, authors say that good writing requires emotion in the writer as well as the writing. They say that writing tells the story, but emotion shows the story. If writers put their emotions, a part of themselves, into their writing, then it is not unexpected for their worldview to be within it as well.
Sometimes the worldview in a form of art is blunt, such as WALL-E, and sometimes it’s more subtle, like Lord of the Rings. Studies on the effects of fiction versus non-fiction can effectively be transferred to fiction versus documentaries in the case of movies. Since movies are such a growing time-consumer for today’s Americans, it is fitting that producers would fill them with propaganda to encourage viewers’ tendencies to match those of the producers .Issues pertaining to the environment are particularly common recently (History). WALL-E was a children’s film about there being so much junk piled up on earth that it is no longer habitable; thus, humans were relocated in operation cleanup, but the attempt failed. Although the movie itself had its own merits, there can be no denying the fact that the environment is a primary concern. Humans are constantly at odds about the future: what will it look like, who will be there, and will it get better? Environmentalists entertain this fear, as well as the knowledge of what might happen if changes are not made. They use loosely-scientifically-based information to create a horror landscape of a world void of preservation and, thus, of life. By using a fictional format, they engage the watchers emotions and stimulate their self-protection.
Stories let the reader understand the characters as well as the author in a way as they really are inside their head for just a little while. When someone tells a story about that one time his brother called him over from the top of a tree, and when he came over, his bother peed on him; he is telling a story. The effect is just as great. When sharing stories, even between friends, the listener is learning more about the speaker. Sometimes the story-teller tells the story so well, the listener remembers the story as his own! The length of the story does not necessarily mean that it will be a higher source of change; short stories can have an equal amount of impact as ones twice as long. It might be argued that the stories told by friends actually happened, thus qualify as non-fiction, however, most stories in this form qualify as “fact based” not exactly fact.
Well-written fiction has the immortal ability to change the world by changing people’s minds and emotions. Every word said by a storyteller or actor, written in a novel, or engraved in a stone lasts longer than the life of the author. Each person it is read by is another person affected in some way and with some magnitude by the words on the page. In some cases, the changes made by fiction were not anticipated by the author, but the changes exist nonetheless. For the reader to anticipate the changes made upon them by reading a work of fiction, he must first examine what’s inside the author. Art is a reflection of the artist, so if the changes were not intended, then they must have been a part of the author mirrored into the art. This applies in reader discretion as well, if the author is or was a psychopathic serial killer, then by reading his story, the reader runs the risk of becoming empathetic to the author, but if the author was a Jewish girl during World War II, then the risks would be more beneficial.
Because their works can be so influential, it is the author’s responsibility to write the truth. Truth does not necessarily have to be a non-fiction memoir; it can be a science fiction novel, a thriller series, or even a horror movie. As long as the art is true in that it is of good report, has strong core morals, and is beneficial to the reader, then it is truth. It is difficult, but not impossible, to write the truth without the aid of the ultimate authority of all things, God. God is truth, so if the author knows God then he or she knows the truth. Because art is a reflection of the author, authors learn more about themselves by creating art, a phenomenon that may have been the origins of the diary. The effect of fiction may be subtle, but the power that flows deep within them is one that is without comparison.
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