The news and the novel

Seen one way, the news and good fiction are polar opposites.

The assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria sparked the First World War. A news article is likely to have reported how this incident happened during a car parade in Sarajevo, Serbia on 28 June, 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old Serbian nationalist. It is likely to be a short account that includes facts around the 5 Ws – Who, What, When, Where and Why.

A historical novel about a similar fictional political assassination would go into several other details. It would dedicated a chapter to outline the political target’s life. A few other chapters would detail the political mood of the times. A further list of chapters would tell us about the assassin’s life and several other chapters would tell us whatever motivated his decision to line up along the roadside with a gun in his pocket. Even if it does not justify this violent act, a well written novel brings us closer to understanding it.

The news is all facts and no nuance. A good novel is no facts and all nuance.

Paradoxically, human truth is less about facts and more about nuance. If you wish to understand the the world better, you are better off reading good literature rather than the news.

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