Writing Secrets: Fiction makes us better human beings

 In Tips for Writers

We all know people who think themselves morally or intellectually superior for reading non-fiction instead of fiction. And recently, the numbers of non-readers have been swelled by the digital clicking, pinging social media-addicted masses.

But there is now strong support for the importance of reading fiction – not from social scientists or retired professors of literature, but from neuroscience.

Scientists have examined our brains while reading fiction. It seems that the language of fiction: imaginative metaphors, its imagery, sensory details and the emotional reactions of people, activates the olfactory cortex and the motor cortex in the same way as if these subjects were experiencing real life.

They smell odours, feel textures and encounter action as though they were doing so in reality.

“The brain does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated,” according to the New York Times.

Fiction offers, according to the scientists, an “especially rich replica” of real life.

But it does far more, according to Annie Murphy Paul, author of Origins: How the nine months before birth shape the rest our lives, and who reported on these findings.

Fiction gives readers “an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings”. It is an “unequalled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life”.

People who frequently read fiction, scientists say, are better able to understand people, empathise with them and see the world from their perspective.

“Reading great literature enlarges and improves us as human beings,” concludes Paul.


For more writing tips and a little motivation click here to read Richard’s Monday Motivation: Balancing act


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