Why Do We Read Fiction? Here Are 5 Reasons

by Monica M. Clark | 23 comments

My favorite authors are those who obviously care about their readers. They are more concerned with entertaining or teaching than showing off techniques. To my favorite authors, the reader experience is paramount.

Why Do We Read Fiction? Here Are 5 Reasons

5 Reasons Why Readers Read Fiction

I want to emulate these writers. I want the reader to be my priority as well. To help me better serve my readers, I decided to take a step back and ask—why do readers read? And specifically, why do we read fiction?

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Readers Read Fiction to Escape

Sometimes a person needs to just leave their world and enter someone else’s. Other times she needs to literally escape her own thoughts. So she turns to books.

Or are their jarring moments that take them out of it?

2. Readers Read Fiction for Companionship

People turn to fiction both when they're alone and when they are lonely.

Sometimes people are just literally alone. They’re on a plane or have time at home, and the book becomes the companion they pass the hours getting to know.

When a person is lonely, the intimacy of books can show him that there are others like him out there. Or that there are others who feel the way that he feels. Books tell people that, while they’re unique, they’re not as unique as they think, ultimately helping them understand themselves and their circumstances better.

I believe that honesty and vulnerability are essential to reaching these readers.

3. Readers Read Fiction to Gain Perspective

Reading about aliens invading the universe can put your problems in perspective—I mean you literally could be dealing with the end of the world. Alternatively, historical fiction might make give readers context to the world that they live in.

Being conscious of this role of fiction may strengthen your writing.

4. Readers Read to Understand People They Haven't Met and Places They’ve Never Visited

This is a crucial role of fiction, in my opinion. Fiction has the ability to help a person understand another person in a way that even television cannot. Fiction readers not only experience the protagonist’s point of view, but his innermost thoughts. They spend hours with his perspective and learning about his background. They think and care about someone very different from themselves.

Fiction also allows readers to experience new settings. Not just sights and sounds, but smells, tastes, and touches. But they can only do that if you take the time to describe these things. Have you?

5. Readers Read to Be Entertained

Yes, people still read to be entertained! I know it to be true. People read because they find it fun, interesting, and relaxing. For these people, the problem arises when reading becomes work. That is, when they have to labor through language or create flow charts to figure out what’s going on.

This is where I think editing comes in.The only way to make the story seem effortless is to revise, revise, revise.

Why Do We Read?

We read fiction for lots of reasons. Remember, you're a reader, too! Why do you read fiction, and what do you love about your favorite books and authors? When you understand why your readers—and you—enjoy the books you read, it will help you write books your readers love.

Why do you read fiction? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, think about your potential reader. Now take fifteen minutes to describe the reader and why he or she would pick up your book.

Share your practice in the comments below, and don't forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

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Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

23 Comments

  1. themagicviolinist

    I love all of these! Escape and companionship are two of the biggest reasons I see repeated all over. In some ways, all of them go together, though. Another point I’d add is we read fiction to see ourselves in otherwise impossible situations. Readers like to learn about new people, but they also like to see themselves represented in a variety of scenarios. 🙂

    Reply
    • Mike Wilke

      Bullet # 4, “Readers Read to Understand People They Haven’t Met and Places They’ve Never Visited” fits me perfectly. I love the dive into the people, places, values I am introduced to in a great book. The more I think about it, this is also probably the reason I love historical fiction.

      Thanks for such an insightful post.

    • Elena

      This is me, too, reading and writing historical fiction for the experience of being immersed into a different setting… but returning to my running water and gas stove 🙂

  2. George McNeese

    I read fiction because I like the idea of stepping into the shoes of a character that may or may not be like me. Sometimes, I view books as scripts of a movie. I imagine stories being played out. I imagine how certain characters would behave, how they would move about, their gestures, the settings, anything that gives me some visualization of the book.

    Reply
  3. RAW

    I liked the “loneliness” reason. I believe this is why people spend so much time reading Facebook pages. This month’s issue of Wired Magazine reported 67% of adults in the USA use FB on a regular basis which is huge! Of course when there, they can see what friends and family are doing, and leave posts to share their own lives.

    Obviously books are a one way medium and in fiction we have to capture the reader’s attention and do our best to hold it.

    I like a suspense thriller where a person’s life is on the line, and you don’t know what will happen next. I like raw emotion where a character shares his or her feelings about what is happening in the story. And finally, I like unusual characters with lots of flaws, because let’s face it, none of us is perfect, and if we see other flawed characters, they are not only interesting, but just seeing them makes us feel better about ourselves.

    That’s my take! What do you think!

    R. Allan Worrell

    Reply
  4. Renee'

    Escape, companionship, a journey to anywhere but here…oh yes, definitely. Many a story I’ve finished and said “I want to live there” or “I want to be their friend”. If I can literally escape into the where and who of what I’m reading, it’s a great trip for me. That is exactly what I would hope a reader would get out of something I write.

    Reply
  5. Valda Dracopoulos

    My reader would be a woman. She would be wanting to escape the life she feels is dull or lonely. Or perhaps her life is so full and stressful that she needs a means to relax and be entertained. She would be looking for an outlet to live through someone else. Maybe to find a friend or a new experience or just to be entertained.

    I read fiction to bring excitement or change in my life. I like to get involved with the character and when I reach the end of the book. I miss that character. That character has become my friend and now they are gone. So, off to find another book and a new friend.

    Reply
    • Minnie

      Like you I become involved with one or more of the characters and miss them at the end of the story. Also if the story does not end quite the way I want I sometimes think of other ways it could have ended.
      Minnie

  6. Mopedi girl

    I enjoy having my feelings and opinions provoked so I read because it challenges my understanding and perspective on things. I also enjoy exercising my imagination and the more I read, the better I get at visualization – to the point where reading might as well be watching a movie …

    Reply
  7. Katie

    To live vicariously through another character. To go on adventurers in my mind. (Like Walter Mitty) which in return, feels like a mini vacation. I get to meet some pretty interesting people along the way. Reading enriches my life in so many ways.

    Reply
  8. EndlessExposition

    My reader would be a queer kid who wants to see characters like them in stories that aren’t about coming out or suicide. Gay people like dragons and murder mysteries and intergalactic space travel too.

    Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      Yes, that’s so important! I really love this movement for more diversity in fantasy, especially. All too often we see white, straight, cis protagonists saving the day against an evil monster.

    • EndlessExposition

      Louder for the people in the back!

    • Monica

      Omg, I talk about this all the time. Stories about humanity, love, dragons, and anything else can be told just as well with minority protagonists as they can with straight/white/male/abled protagonists.

    • Sefton

      Ha I think my reader might be that same kid! It’s unbelievable how many books with gay characters make them All About Being Gay. TV does it slightly better these days. But still.

  9. William E Daye

    Becoming one with the character is very important. If you become one with the character, I believe the story can write itself. If you write in such a way that, the reader can relate to the protagonist than you’ve done your job. If you reader finds themselves immersed in the world as if they are sitting right next to the protagonist than you’ve certainly done your job as a writer.

    Reply
  10. Liz

    Relaxation and entertainment for sure, but also to learn how to write and edit. I’m to the point that when I read even a big name author with dozens of books, I find errors. I make note of them and work very hard to not make them myself. A friend once told me I was “too picky” with my writing. But when I see two characters enter a windowless room and one of them searches thru the closet while the other one watches the parking lot thru the window, it jars me and interrupts the story. I don’t ever want to jar my reader out of my story. I’m sure my writing is far from perfect, but I take it very seriously.

    Reply
  11. TerriblyTerrific

    Reading is wonderful. I appreciate the benefits of when my mind can imagine things. I think about what the character looks like, what they do, where they are, etc. Thank you.

    Reply
  12. Sefton

    My potential reader is someone who wants to escape grim reality, have fun reading about a hero who can talk his way out of almost anything, who is not interested in a gritty or dark fantasy but a light and humorous one. They probably have a lot of PG Wodehouse, maybe Harry Harrison and Pratchett on their shelves. My reader wants to be entertained, not horrified. Rating? Mild Peril. 🙂

    Reply
  13. LilianGardner

    Thanks for your interesting post, Monica.
    # 4 sums up my view of why a reader should pick up my, or any book.
    I enjoy writing fiction when it relates to our world, or I weave people’s lives and experiences into my story. It gives me something solid to build on. When I revise, I step out of the role as author and wear the reader’s garb, this way I know if my novel will hold the reader’s interest to the end.

    Reply
  14. Anonymous George

    I want my readers to REALLY want my main protagonist to succeed. I want my reader to feel a fiery passion for my main character. I hope that my reader understands my characters’ desires and pain. I want them to hate the antagonist with passion. When my character wants to give up or give in, I want my reading to be urging them on in their head. I wish for my reader to feel victorious when there’s a victory, and feel anger when there’s wrong doing. I want them to have a strong sense of justice. I want my reader to know that you should NEVER give up. Sometimes it seems cheesy, but I want my book to convince people to do the right thing. I really want people to understand what a true hero is, and strive to become one. (Sorry if I don’t have the best grammar in this one, I don’t really know if I got my point across as well as I would have liked.)

    Reply
    • Anonymous George

      I don’t really have a specific age group in mind for my book, I’d probably say I’m leaning toward a teenager age group. I just really want to capture people who have a strong desire to to something good for the world. (Or something like that….)

  15. Tim Olson

    I agree with all five reasons given but some of my favorite fiction authors include wisdom and insights that influence and inspire me so much I have to take notes! I find myself often quoting what they say to others and it gives me a wonderful take away value way beyond simply reading a great story. I hope I can do that for my readers.

    Reply

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