As part of the first Fiction Workshop class, we asked to read a series of reasons why writing is important. To summarize briefly, writing is important and worthwhile because stories:
- Delight us.
- Create community.
- help us to see through the eyes of other people.
- Show us the consequences of our actions.
- Educate our desires
- Help us dwell in place.
- Help us dwell in time.
- Help us deal with suffering, loss, and death.
- Teach us how to be human.
- Acknowledge the wonder and mystery of creation.
Of this list I probably respond most forcefully to the idea of seeing the world through the eyes of other people. This was termed 'empathy' when we discussed the list and that seems to be an appropriate description of one role of fiction. It expands the number of lives we might encounter. The story of a well-written character brings us closer to a world might never otherwise touch.
As for my own reason why writing is worthwhile I'd add this:
I once heard poems defined as the simplest way of saying a word never before spoken by humans. I believe stories are the simplest way to explain some novel way of living. The is the eleventh reason they have power. There is a magic in creating something new, however small. No story, even if it is copied word for word by another author can possibly mean the same thing as another. Each story has its own specific meaning.
During the early centuries of the Christian church, as questions of theology and cosmology roiled the communities of early believers, one version of Christianity was Gnosticism. Gnosticism held that knowledge, not faith, was the path to salvation. A quester for liberation or salvation passed through a great many tests. Each of these tests could only be passed if the quester knew some spell or magic word. One such Gnostic sect held that there were 365 steps before a soul left the world of matter and entered the world of the spirit.
Each day, in other words, of a person's waking year, is a test.
Stories, each one pushing a person towards new perspectives, new language, new ways of thinking, cannot help but unlock a few doors.