Monday, June 04, 2012

When Fiction Becomes Reality?

People are always doing new studies and looking at things in a different way. It’s fantastic. It helpsus grow and change. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone did a study on the effectsof reading fiction? How the brain processes the information and what happensafter the story is over? Well, someone finally did

The basic premise isthat when the reader can fully lose himself in the book’s main character, hefeels as though he’s experienced everything that character has experienced. Notin the same way that a vivid imagination can guess what the experience mighthave been like, but actually feeling like he’s gone through the experience. It’scalled ‘experience-taking.’

“Experience-taking changes us by allowing us to merge our own liveswith those of the characters we read about, which can lead to good outcomes,”said Geoff Kaufman, who led the study as a graduate student at Ohio State. Heis now a postdoctoral researcher at the Tiltfactor Laboratory at DartmouthCollege.

Interesting, huh? Andwhat an experience for readers! And how amazing that we writers can give thisto them!

The next question, ofcourse, is how do we do this? Well, we have to build complex, realistic characters that trickthe reader into believing they are real people. They need quirks, opinions, biases,body language, flaws, everything. When those attributes exist, readers will beable to identify with one or more of them, and then they’re off—stealingexperiences from our characters. :) Who knew great writing could be sopowerful?

The key to creating stronglinks to main characters is how and when to reveal certain details aboutlifestyle, quirks, opinions, etc. It’s all about the timing of the delivery. One of the studies in the article illustrates this.

In one experiment, 70 male, heterosexual college students read a storyabout a day in the life of another student. There were three versions - one inwhich the character was revealed to be gay early in the story, one in which thestudent was identified as gay late in the story, and one in which the characterwas heterosexual.Results showed that the students who read the story where the characterwas identified as gay late in the narrative reported higher levels ofexperience-taking than did those who read the story where the character’shomosexuality was announced early.

In other words, if thecharacters are established as real people first, with traits that the readercan identify with, then it won’t matter how many differences they have down theroad. That connection has already been made, and the reader can go with it. Howcool is this?? Seriously, my inner geek is really excited.

This just reinforcesthe importance of character, and how we need to make them so real that theyfeel like actual, physical people that a reader can lose himself in.

What do you think of all this?


Kelly Hashway said...

This is very cool! Character are like real people for me, so I totally understand this. :)

Anonymous said...

This is very cool! How nice to have a scientific study for what many of us have probably believed all along. After all, when reading the last few pages of a beloved book, I often feel as if I'm saying goodbye to old friends. At the very least, it proves we're not crazy. : )

Catherine Stine said...

I always suspected this, but it's nice to have it verified.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

I thought so! Thanks for sharing your data.

Anna Staniszewski said...

That's really interesting--and it makes a lot of sense. Glad to see fiction backed up by science. :-)

Unknown said...

It's so important to know when to reveal things about the character. I usually link it to the plot developments or when I want a twist/revelation at the end of a chapter. Great post! Made me think.