I read a lot. I always have. Even before books taught me to write my own stories, they taught me to care about stories in their own right. And that love of stories carried over to TV and video games, although books are still my first love, storytelling-wise. I know fictional characters the way I know the people I talk to every day, and countless other people’s lives live inside me.
I know many people who feel the same way. But in a lot of cases, their love of stories led them to seek out other people who loved the same stories they did. They make fanart, read and write fanfiction, share their delight and horror at a character’s actions, debate where a series is likely to go next. This all looks like a lot of fun in theory. A community brought together by a common enthusiasm for the thing I love – what could be better? But I’ve never felt much of a draw toward the world of fandom, even though I’ve often felt like I should. When I was thirteen I used to regularly post on a forum devoted to a TV show I watched obsessively, and I enjoy comparing notes with a book I loved or hated with someone else who has also read it – but by and large, my watching and reading has been a solitary pursuit.
For a long time I didn’t know why fandom didn’t work for me. What made me figure it out was thinking about fiction as a form of escape. A lot of people talk about liking fiction because it allows them to escape into lives that aren’t their own. For me, that’s rarely the case; I’m much more likely to use fiction as a way to understand the world better, to explore an interesting idea, to slip inside someone else’s head to look at things in a way I hadn’t considered before. But something about the idea of fiction-as-escape niggled at me, telling me it wasn’t entirely wrong.
It took me years to figure out that fiction is a different type of escape for me. Fiction gives me permission to shut out the world and replace it with a different one – but in that other world, especially if I’m reading a book, everything is on my terms. There are no distractions or interruptions, no bright lights or loud noises – just words that describe those things, and I choose how to imagine them. Nothing goes by too fast, nothing drags on too slow. There’s only the interplay between the story and my own mind. There are only words, and I can process them in my own way, at my own pace. It doesn’t matter if it takes me five minutes to read one chapter and an hour to read the next; it doesn’t matter whether I visualize the characters the same way somebody else does. If I miss something important, I can go back and find it.
For me, reading isn’t an escape from my life, but it is an escape from the stresses and demands of the outside world, and the pressure to process all the outside input quickly and correctly. It’s a space where I can just let my mind do its own thing.
And so of course I don’t get that urge to connect with others through fiction. Not when, for me, it’s something intensely personal and deeply internal.
The more time I spend writing and publishing, the more interested I become in the purposes of fiction, the importance of entertainment, and the role of storytelling in human culture. It’s a complicated subject, because stories are so many different things to different people. But both of these things, I think, are a part of what stories do in general, and what books do in particular. They can give people a way to connect with each other… and they can give people a mental refuge, a pressure-free place to explore new facets of the world on their own terms.
I hope that my own stories are able to give people that same refuge, and that same way to connect.