This response from J KIRSCH strikes me as so profound that I am reproducing it here:

This post brings up an interesting conundrum: why does fiction sometimes equal or transcend the ability of nonfiction to touch someone? People see a headline or a paragraph and are able to distance themselves from a real tragedy. On the other hand have that person read their favorite novel in which they lose a major character and they feel real sadness.

The way one looks at the question depends on several assumptions. I’m not sure that it’s fair to say that fiction is entertainment. For example, a certain fiction book depicts imaginary civilizations in expressing a powerful theme of racial tolerance. Is this in some way less meaningful than a book about Apartheid in teaching the same lesson of racial tolerance? Jesus’ parables in the Bible are essentially short stories. Their power is in creating understanding and is in no way restricted by whether events did or did not actually “happen”.


Filed under Characters, Mystery, Suspense, Writing style


  1. Janet Case

    That is an outstanding post. I always knew in my heart that this was true about fiction, but never put the thoughts together to explain it so well. Fiction can be so much more than entertainment.

  2. Jim Kren

    I don’t believe the question of entertainment value has any bearing on a novel. It must hold the reader’s interest to accomplish it’s goals. Diversion is also a worthy goal because it can be healing to the soul.

  3. Melissa Hart

    It seems to me that this can be a very serious matter. Some novels that I have read seem to have become a part of my life. When issues of my Christian faith are part of the story, I am often deeply moved. These novels mean a lot more to me than non-fiction books that merely offer advice, though I read those, too. So, I guess I’m saying that it’s not always just entertainment. It can have real meaning.

  4. Ann Brice

    If it is literature, does it satisfy? If entertainment, does it entertain? If inspirational, does it inspire? If historical, does it teach? I could go on and on. There are lots of reasons for fiction that make it valuable. I love to read. I also have read to my son every night and now he’s doing it on his own.

  5. Bill Blaire

    I like a book with action that grabs me. What’s wrong with that?

    • I like the way this discussion is going and the issues that are coming out of it. I also think Bill Blaire and Jim Kren make a good point. Entertainment is a a worthy end. If the book doesn’t hold a reader’s interest, then who will read it?. Once it passes that basic structural need, all the benefits of this art form can be realized.

  6. Janet Case

    Different strokes, as they say. Mr. Blaire’s interest is captured by action. My preference is for strong prose and interesting characters.

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