“It’s not the most intellectual job in the world, but I do have to know the letters.”
~ VANNA WHITE
We’re all aware of survival tools. Every creature has developed ways to keep itself alive. From the rhino’s horn to the elephant’s bulk to the cheetah’s speed, we all have a master plan. Pet owners know. The dog’s survival tools are its teeth, and it constantly gnaws on stuff (hopefully not your favorite shoes!) to keep them sharp and polished. With cats, it’s their claws, and anyone who has lived around a cat has experienced the joy of clawed-up possessions, from books to furniture. A cat’s gotta be prepared, man!
So, what is your survival tool, fellow humanoid? Our “claws” are pathetic fingernails, our teeth blunt seed-mashers, and we are one of the, if not the slowest large animal on the planet. So, how have we risen to our position of dominance? Why, our brains, of course! That three pounds of fatty goo between our ears has placed us at the top of every food chain on earth. But if dogs gnaw and cats claw, how, pray tell, do we exercise a lump of tissue that sits inside its armored case and is incapable of movement? By having, and more importantly, giving free rein to an imagination, and the richer, the better. Your brain solves problems. From the early problems of making fire and inventing speech to the modern problems of exploring space and the ocean deeps, that’s what it does, but in order for it to maintain its health and youthful flexibility, you have to let it off the chain once in a while to go exploring. Those who don’t grow up to wear gray suits to their bean-counting jobs, and likely keep their ties on when they go to bed.
This is where fiction comes in. Some of us read it, and some of us write it, but we all partake in one way or another. Every ancient myth of some monster in the woods, every legend of a great warrior, protector, or pied piper is a tale that someone made up. Some were attempts to explain what couldn’t be explained by the knowledge of the time, others were cut from whole cloth. Some were cautionary, warning the children, for example, not to go into the woods, but they were all fiction. Every age has its flavor. When the Ancient Greeks spoke of Hercules or Pegasus, these were beings that they thought there was a chance that they might meet during their lifetimes. Victorians were heavily into seances, read stories of lost worlds, and hung on lurid tales of celebrity explorers describing humans being sacrificed to man-eating plants in darkest Africa. Today, we favor alien abduction stories and conspiracy theories, but what these things all have in common is that they represent the free rein of imagination, and are at their core that big, active brain getting its exercise.
And this brings us to our niche as writers of fiction. I have heard pundits say that the novel, a recent construct in the world of literature, is on its way out as an art form, that the electronic revolution has shortened the average attention span to where the writer has to get in, finish up, and get out within about two minutes. That might be true, although that would sadden me greatly, but storytelling is going to exist in one form or another as long as homo sapiens endures as a species. We perform an invaluable service to mankind; we are the personal trainers for the brains, and no advanced thinker who has expanded the horizons of mankind’s knowledge, no Carl Sagan, no Neil DeGrasse Tyson, no Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, would have been able to accomplish what he did without a free, active, and well-developed imagination, so if you’ve been making contributions to mind-expansion, no matter how small, stand up and take a bow. Humanity wouldn’t have come a fraction as far as it has without your efforts. Yours, and the sea of writers who came before you. And make no mistake, movies, plays, TV shows, games, music, and any form of audio or visual entertainment, is first written before it is placed on film, tape, CD, or whatever, and that’s what you do. What we do. Without the efforts of writers, we’d still be living in the Dark Ages, if we were that far along, so the next time someone suggests that you’re “just” a writer, nod knowingly with an enigmatic smile, mutter, “Right,” and go about your business, knowing what your contribution is, and what that person’s isn’t. It’ll make your day!