The Secret Superpower Of Novels
I used to think there was something wrong with me. At least with my reading habits.
I could zip through any novel anyone handed me in just a few days’ time. I could enthuse about the characters, the story, and the writing until people went cross-eyed. I could understand what the author was trying to say through it and often thought about how it applied to me.
But even though I had a stack of wonderful nonfiction books that I so wanted to read, I had to force myself through them. Even when I developed a reading plan to study some of these books, I had to take it one chapter at a time. Sometimes only a half-chapter.
Why? How could I breeze through a four-hundred page novel, but drag myself through a forty-page nonfiction study?
Some of it may have been the different style of writing. Nonfiction tends to have a wider vocabulary and harder concepts. They take time to think on and understand before you move to the next chapter. By their very writing, much of nonfiction is something to ponder, not breeze through.
But can we also face it?—sometimes fiction writers get a bad rap. In movies (more so than books), we’re portrayed as ditzy idealists who spend our days in the clouds, out of touch with reality, and consuming far too much coffee. At best, we're misguided dreamers. At worst, we're hypocrites and liars. More often than not, it seems nonfiction works are applauded as world-changing books.
And they are. I could give you a list of nonfiction books right now that have been revolutionary to me (Crazy Love by Francis Chan, Love Riot by Sara Barrett, Steadfast Love by Lauren Chandler, It’s Worth It by Macey McLain, and Priscilla Shirer’s books, for starters).
None of this is meant to bash nonfiction. There is a huge ministry there, and it is exactly what reaches some people. Some nonfiction authors have fantastic writing styles that make it easy to read.
But few people realize the powers fiction writers hold. Sometimes not even fiction writers themselves.
Few people realize that novels are world-changing books, too.
It took me years to decipher my problem with nonfiction. Here’s what I’ve noticed—a few things that prove that the novel you’ve been wanting to read might just be even more meaningful than your average devotional.
Life is tough. Really tough. Each of us have our own problems we’re trying to scale. Whether or not they’re “big” in comparison to things in the world or another person’s problems doesn’t matter. They are big to us.
I’m no exception. And when I’ve been going through the hardest things in my life, when I was hurt or angry or overwhelmed, I didn’t turn to a deep theological tome. I searched for an escape.
And I found that escape in fiction. I’d take a book off my shelf—maybe one I’d read a dozen times before, maybe one I hadn’t gotten around to reading. I’d pop in a movie. I’d lose myself in someone else’s world for a while. For a couple hours I’d travel the streets that connect London to Neverland, break codes in World War I, and explore revolutionary Philadelphia.
And as they battle pirates, race against opposite agents, and stop plots that could have changed the course of American history, I battle right alongside the characters. I return to my own world with a new hope that if they could solve their problems, then so could I.
Once I dive into a story, I become best friends with characters who have the same feelings I do, even though our situations are vastly different.
I’m not a codebreaker in World War I (never have been, either), but when Margot de Wilde cuts her hair to lash out at the snobby matron at the hospital, I understood. I understood that deep-burning anger that made me want to do something drastic. (The Number of Love by Roseanna White)
I’m not a girl with a mysterious healing powers, but I understood Kynet’s desire to protect those she cared most about and to make the most of the gift she’d been given. (Healer's Bane by Hope Ann)
I’m definitely not Anastasia Romanova, but as she struggled to forgive the people who had hurt her so deeply, I thought of those who had hurt me and struggled with her. (Romanov by Nadine Brandes)
Characters get angry. They get scared. They make mistakes. They cry. They feel overlooked. They keep things locked inside that they wish they could shout to the world.
My feelings are shown to be something valid, even if I feel like no one in my world hears them. Something real. And I realize that my feelings are okay. They’re normal. I’m not alone. I can work through them.
Anyone can spout off a string of colorful Christian-ese that means nothing. (Heads up: nobody beseeches anybody anymore. It’s a shame, but it’s true. Just saying.) I can’t count the times when we’ve read a family devotional and the author has said something along the lines of “You shouldn’t judge others” or “You must let God free you from your chains”—and there the devotional ends. Thanks for nothing! Even if they lay out exactly why we should do these things, there was no follow through. Being the logical, analytical person I am, I need practical, real-world examples of how these things work.
Fawkes showed me how to seek truth as a young person in a world full of diverse voices more than any sermon ever did.
How to Train Your Dragon showed me what it looked like to find your place in the world as you grow up better than any how-to book.
Big Hero 6 showed me it’s okay to hurt, and how it looks to hurt the right way better than booklet on grief.
Fiction drags us into the adventure even if we don’t have the hope to look for one anymore and shows us hands-on what victory looks like.
So, at long last, I’ve come to grips with my novel-istic tendencies. And I've learned that those who step into that world are not just naive liars. Fiction is a way to reach people who would never pick up a devotional as well as people who would.
Because deep down, we all long for adventure. And fiction serves it up beautifully right next to the answers we need.
11/27/2020 04:28:04 pm
This was such a great post, Rachel! Everything you said hits so close to home for me, so thank you for sharing your thoughts, I really enjoyed reading it. Also, I'll definitely be checking out the non-fiction books you mentioned!! 😁
12/4/2020 04:17:52 am
I'm so glad this encouraged you! And please do check out those nonfiction books, they are fantastic! While this article was meant to primarily defend fiction writing, I never wanted it to seem like it was putting down nonfiction writers--they have their own unique way of reaching the world!
11/27/2020 08:27:10 pm
This is such a beautiful post, Rachel! Thank you for writing it for us. It really spoke to me in so many different areas! ❤️
12/4/2020 04:15:25 am
Thank you for the encouragement! I'm glad it spoke to you.
12/4/2020 04:13:54 am
I am so glad it inspired you! I'm sure your stories will impact people in so many ways! (And yes, you must read Fawkes. XD)
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Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!