Last week, I picked up some uncharacteristic reading material, namely Jeffrey Schwartz's The Mind & the Brain, a popular treatment of the philosophical implications of neuroplasticity. Pretty heady stuff (no pun intended) for someone used to reading stories about men with guns or unspeakable horrors from beyond time and space. But you know what? I'm finding that a little non-fiction goes a long way toward helping me enjoy the world of make believe, and here are few reasons why.
First, fiction isn't the stuff of life. Rather, it's about that stuff. Everyone agrees that you need to read a lot if you want to write great fiction, but we also need to fill our days with, well, everyday things. Sometimes my creativity soars after I've simply played with the kids or eaten lunch with a friend -- or read something informative.
Another point: If you buy the argument that themes invariably inhabit every line of text, then you'll probably want to ensure that you're at least self-consciously inserting them in your fiction. Too often authors produce titles containing unclear or even warring motifs. A healthy dose of non-fiction can foster a more propositional mindset.
Finally, every piece of genre fiction -- no matter if it lands in the fantasy, horror, SF or crime fiction bin -- needs more than characters, themes, a plot and a setting. Those elements require details, all the little niggling bits of information that you forget about until time comes to put pen to paper. Say you've got a protagonist. Now he or she needs a job. Let's say the individual works construction. Sounds simple enough to write. But what sort of construction? Drywall installation, cement masory, pipe fitting, glaziery -- there's a whole alphabet soup of construction types. Now we're always going to have to do research for our stories, but reading a wide array of non-fiction might just job your memory at the right time.
Of course, there are many more reasons than just these three. Tell me, dear readers, do you ever break out of fiction's ghetto and (if so) why?
(Picture: CC 2009 by deadstar 2.1)