Escaping Reality

It is often said that fiction helps us to escape reality. In one sense this is absolutely true–beyond a shadow of a doubt–but in another (more realistic?) sense, I would be inclined to argue that fiction does the exact opposite.

I believe fiction can actually help us appreciate reality more.

I want to support this thesis by describing my three favorite genres of fiction–both to read and to write. I want to show how they help us to escape reality but then argue that by doing so they actually end up helping us appreciate reality more.

Perhaps this thesis is entirely off-base, and if so, I’d love to get feedback. But maybe you resonate with this thesis. If so, again, I’d appreciate your feedback. Your feedback helps me know that I’m not writing into the void, that there actually are people out there who care enough to read my blogs, and–depending on how you receive what I write–your feedback can help influence how I write my blogs in the future. Your feedback means more than you know.

But enough of that. Fiction can help us appreciate reality more by allowing us to escape reality for a time.

Thriller

My favorite genre of all time is thrillers. Some of my favorite authors in this genre are John Marrs, Shari Lapena, Minka Kent, and John Grisham. I recently picked out an anonymous book at Barnes & Noble that was described as a thriller, it turned out to be by Karin Slaughter, and–wow!–it was a crazy ride!

But that’s why I love thrillers. A well-written thriller is an absolute roller coaster of adrenaline. I think my love for thrillers was birthed as a young boy, as my grandma helped me collect all 58 of the “original” Hardy Boys novels. (I still have them, and I am excited to introduce them to my boy[s] when they reach the appropriate age.) But every chapter of the Hardy Boys ended with a cliffhanger. I could read a whole novel in three hours and never feel that a minute of that time was wasted. And that’s why thrillers are my number one genre today. They insist that you keep turning the page.

And so far, this has been my preferred genre to write. Stranded is a thriller (though definitely heavy on the psychological side). Switched will be a thriller. Stronger than Sin will be thriller-esque, because even though it’s a romance novel, I purposefully crafted it so that you will keep turning the page (but perhaps that’s just the definition of a good book?). I have several more novels in the works that fit this genre, and I’m hoping with every novel that it will be better than the one I published prior.

But when it comes to escaping reality, this is accomplished by reading yourself into the story as an observer. The characters are going through traumatic–or potentially traumatic–situations, and you escape from whatever your life is throwing at you by reading about someone whose life is worse.

And then, because their life was worse, you are better able to appreciate your reality. You realize some of the utterly horrific things that could have happened to you, and it makes you a little more grateful that your life is going the way it is, even if it is not the fantasy you wish it was.

Fantasy

Another of my favorite genres is fantasy. Some of my favorite authors in this camp are J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, Patrick Rothfuss, and Andrea Stewart. I actually have quite a few other authors’ series within this genre on my to-be-read list, including Leigh Bardugo, Robert Jordan, Jenn Lyons, George R. R. Martin, and Brent Weeks, but I’ll probably try to finish Stewart’s series before I move on to any others.

Fantasy was the first genre I ever tried to write, due especially to the influence of Christopher Paolini. As such, I’ve created a whole world with thousands of years of history, genealogies, and legends; a map that encompasses the breadth of the world; and the creatures that fill the world. However, given my standalone thriller projects, I’ve yet to make much actual progress on a marketable book in my fantasy world (though I’ve mapped out at least two series [one of which is five books long] and a handful of other standalone stories/novels in this world).

But fantasy is popular because it allows you to be whoever you want to be. And it often gives you a slew of characters from various races, various genders, and various species with which to relate. If you want to escape from the monotonous life you live–day-in and day-out–fantasy is often a fantastic choice. You can enter a vast world of mythical creatures, stunning vistas, and–often–surprising importance. The average character in a fantasy novel doesn’t think they’re anything special (much like we often view ourselves [at least I do]), but it usually turns out that he/she is the key to the whole world’s survival/thriving. This is why we can easily lose ourselves in these kinds of stories.

And then, when we return to real life, we start looking for ways that our life can matter here in the real world. If you are the hero (read: protagonist) of your own life story (which you are), then it only makes sense that you would search for the overarching clues that would propel you into achieving victory in the struggles you must overcome every day. Fantasy allows you to appreciate reality by looking for meaning therein.

Historical Fiction

My other favorite genre is historical fiction. My favorite author in this genre (and admittedly, I’ve not read widely here) is Bernard Cornwell, though I do hope to read more by Douglas Bond (amongst others) at some point.

Historical fiction is an interesting genre. If done right, it can be a thoroughly entertaining way to learn history. Cornwell has taught me more about the history of England than anyone else, all in the guise of epic stories about soldiers, warlords, and renegades. I want to read his series on the French Revolution, but I’m out of bookshelf space for the time being.

But knowledge of this genre has inspired me to write similar stories focusing on church history, and since church history arises out of the life of Jesus of Nazareth–a first-century Jew–the series must start at the birth of the Jewish nation–the Exodus from Egypt. I want to tell a cohesive story–in as many novels as it takes–imagining what all the epic stories of the Old Testament, life in the New Testament, and the subsequent story of Christianity must have looked like to those living them–at least up to the Reformation in 1517 or so.

But historical fiction is valuable because it allows you to experience a different time period than the one in which you live. It immerses you in a new–but real (at least at one time)–culture. It teaches you about the mistakes of the past, so you don’t make them again in the future. It shows you how people lived before modern technology.

And then, when you return to real life, you can be thankful for the wars that were fought so you can enjoy freedom today. You can be grateful that you have modern plumbing, modern medicine, and modern laws. You need not fear invasions on the regular (especially in my first-world context). You can be thankful for the education afforded you so you can move up in the world. Ultimately, historical fiction helps you appreciate life today, and it should also teach you about the past. Both of these are incredibly helpful, and they militate against the view that reading fiction is to escape reality.

Rather, fiction helps us to appreciate reality.

What’s your favorite genre/author? Why do you like it? Why him/her? Do you read more for escape or more to appreciate life more? What book(s) are you reading right now?

Drop a comment. Leave a like. Share on your favorite social media platform. Your feedback is incredibly helpful.

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thanks for reading

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