Life Lessons From Fiction

By Jamie McSloy / February 20, 2018
10 life lessons from fiction featured image

Learning From Fiction

Over on Twitter earlier, I saw someone had tweeted that you learn more from fiction than non-fiction.

Is that true?

Let’s find out.

Mythology and Humans

Humans learn from fiction. Fiction likely began as parable and gnomic wisdom. Gnomes and parables are essentially mnemonic devices.

Yet there are two problems with using this mythological background in the current age:

  1. Your brain doesn’t digest them literally
  2. Most people have completely lost the ability to interpret parables

Let’s talk about those two things before I get on to the subject at hand.

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Learning from Fiction Is Not A Literal Thing

Can you learn from fiction? Yes.

Reading a story about someone overcoming the odds, conquering their weaknesses and triumphing is a powerful thing and you can learn how to overcome things through reading about that.

But nobody is going to learn how to program in Python or build a log cabin from reading a fiction book.

For particular skills, reading non-fiction books on the subject is your best bet.

Interpretative Ability And Fiction

The secret to learning from fiction is that you aren’t learning from the fiction itself.

It’s highly dependent on a ton of things.

For instance, a guy with an IQ of 70 who hasn’t read a book in his entire life isn’t going to have a hope in hell’s chance of understanding the religious fatalism of The Count of Monte Cristo. He probably won’t finish the book, and if he does, then he’ll think, “Cool story, bro.”

Taking lessons from fiction is about how well you can interpret information and synthesise it into your own life.

Reading a book where a character grieves or comes to terms with a loss will be different for someone who is going through that, has been through that or has never experienced such a thing.

In a wider sense, people have lost their ability to interpret fiction – or any text.

I don’t know whether it’s a cultural thing or the access to “realistic information” which requires no decoding, but it’s something.

Check out any criticism of current movies or whatever. Reviews written like moronic children have been let loose on the internet.

Or, if you’re feeling particularly masochistic, then try and read some normal folks have a conversation about a religious text.

“Hur, dur, them old-fashioned people literally believed God threw lightning bolts at them and that the world is made from a giant cow!”

The above types of folks actually think they’re intelligent, yet can’t recognise symbolic thinking.

So your first step for learning from fiction is to understand that the lessons are symbolic and that they are individual to you.

Ten Lessons From Fiction

Here are ten quick lessons from fiction for real life.

  1. The Environment Interacts With The Characters (Too many people sit on top of Earth and don’t interact with it. Don’t let that be you.)
  2. The Plot Doesn’t matter – the emotional conflicts do
  3. The “theme” is largely irrelevant and if you’re looking for a grand “theme” then you probably sound like a pompous halfwit
  4. Show don’t tell is absolutely solid advice for life.
  5. Life is not about main character versus. Non-character. Your character has flaws. Other people are fully-fleshed out individuals with their own conflicts and goals.
  6. You can pull inspiration from anywhere. Ignore “cultural appropriation” or whatever retarded term people have for it. Star Wars is cowboys in space. The Lion King is Jesus with lions.
  7. People have wacky inspirations and desires. Leave them to it. Some people dream of exploring space to create utopia. Others are more concerned with kinky shenanigans involving cattle prods and tentacle monsters.
  8. The life and death of characters is not their end point. Neither is the amount of time they’re “in the game.”
  9. At the core of every story is a succession of rising stakes. If you aren’t upping the stakes, then your life isn’t a story. It’s waiting to be one.
  10. It doesn’t really matter how good the story is; the title, cover and blurb do the selling. That’s life too.

Final Thoughts

The list above is a quick taste of some lessons I’ve learned from reading and writing fiction. It’s a pretty basic and universal list. There are also some “meta-lessons” from fiction that I thought of:

  1. The story will get retold by others. This is inevitable and part of the game.
  2. You are rewriting the tales told to you
  3. The narratives you create are as much a part of your legacy as your genetic code.
  4. Your ability to understand fiction limits the value you get from it

These lessons aren’t about fiction in and of itself, but about the mythological process I talked about at the start of this post.

I realise now that it’s a more extensive topic than I thought it’d be, so I’ll leave it at this. Chew on the ideas, add your own in the comments, expand and help your brain grow.


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