Fiction Needs to Change You

By Channing Whitaker

Suffice it to say, when you pick up non-fiction books — accounts of people and events, biographies, history books, maybe even self-improvement texts — you expect to come out of the read more informed, perhaps given a new way to see the world, and in either case intellectually or emotionally changed, at least a little. But when you pick up a work of fiction, do you expect the same, or do you merely expect to be entertained?until-the-sun-rises

I’m a fiction writer, which means I dedicate a significant portion of my time to making things up, to making up stories. Now, if a person is making up an alibi for a crime they’ve committed, they likely wouldn’t strive for entertainment. Rather, they’d want a mundane story, which is too boring not to believe. However, when you’re making up a story you intend for people to read and then hopefully tell other people to read it as well, as all us fiction writers hope, that story most certainly needs to entertain. Who would spend the time on a work of fiction if it didn’t? But is it worth your time if it doesn’t offer more?

What some fiction offers up is obvious, like challenging racism and segregation norms in To Kill a Mocking Bird, others are less straightforward, like reinforcing the morality of doing what is right in spite of the personal consequences in the Harry Potter series. I can’t think of a work, good or bad, which would be an example of fiction with pure entertainment and no underlying lesson. I imagine even the writers of the trashiest of romance novels still hold a hope that their readers will take away ideas from their books and use them to ignite passion in their own love-lives.

My novel, Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion, seems like a haunted house mystery, but is largely told from the perspective of a paranormal skeptic. It weaves an entertaining plot, but also casts a suspicious light on paranormal themed reality shows as well as commune-with-the-dead psychics. It doesn’t impart many definitive facts as it’s not a true story. However, it does question the likelihood of catching a ghostly happening on a reality show when both a camera and a microphone have to conveniently be rolling on the alleged occurrence. “Is it more likely to have been staged?” My hope is that metaphorically walking in the shoes of the paranormal skeptic leads readers to be sharper critics in their own lives, be it of paranormal claims or otherwise.

Whether fiction informs you of an environment you’ve never experienced, causes you to question principals you’ve taken for granted, helps you see the world through another person’s eyes, makes you imagine how you might respond to a fantastic situation, or takes you through a tragedy, you’ll hopefully never have to experience in real life. Fiction can shape you, and good fiction absolutely should.

Channing Whitaker is a novelist, screenwriter, and filmmaker originally hailing from Centerville, Iowa. An alum of Indian Hills Community College, Channing went on to study cinema, screenwriting, literature, and mathematics at the University of Iowa.

Post graduation, Channing began his career in the production of television news, independent films, and commercial videos, as well as to write for websites, corporate media, and advertising. His 10-year career in writing has taken Channing from Iowa, to Alaska, Oklahoma, and currently to Texas.

Channing has written five feature-length screenplays, co-written another feature screenplay, and penned a novel. In that time, Channing has also written and directed over 50 short films.

The April 2015 publication of Channing’s debut novel, “Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion,” comes in tandem with the first production of one of Channing’s feature screenplays, “KILD TV” – a horror mystery. “KILD TV” has already filmed, and will premier in March 2016 release.

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10 thoughts on “Fiction Needs to Change You

  1. I enjoyed thinking about what I get from reading fiction. I love to be entertained. Since I write for teens, I make up stories with characters having flaws, changing mentally and emotionally, and discovering goals. I hope as the teens read my words, underneath they gain new ideas about growing up, relationships and how to solve problems, but are entertained at the same time.

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  2. Well done, Channing! First, congratulations on your professional accomplishments. Second, is Centerville in the center of Iowa (inquiring minds want to know)? Third, I took a look at UNTIL THE SUN RISES at Amazon. It sounds intriguing. Have it in my wish list and plan to buy it soon.
    I have a personal interest in the paranormal. My next Mac McClellan Mystery (#4) broaches that subject. Mac’s girlfriend nags him to join a local paranormal group. Mac’s a big skeptic, but two suspicious deaths occur on his first two outings, and he begins to wonder.
    The story idea stems from my own dabblings to learn about the “other side.” I enjoy watching some of those “ghost hunters” shows on TV with my grandsons. They talked me into buying a “ghost-hunting” kit, plus the (then) latest “spirit/ghost box,” the same model used on one of the more popular shows. I’ll tell you that I was a big skeptic, like Mac. Until . . . One night we gathered around the dining table (my daughter, two grandsons, son-in-law, and yours truly). I turned on the ghost box and we began asking questions. Without mentioning names, three or four (can’t quite remember) different voices–male and female–called several of us by name. They especially liked conversing with my older grandson who was eight at the time.
    And then my son-in-law asked if anyone knew my daughter’s (his wife’s) nickname. Now, I had forgotten all about her nickname for years, and it was never used in our house of ten years. Suddenly a male voice said, very distinctly, “Hello, Puma,” followed a few seconds later by another distinct voice (female), “Hi, Puma!”
    Jaws dropped around the table. I decided to end the session then and there. We bid our “visitors” a fond farewell along with thanking them for communicating with us, and I shut the ghost box off. THAT was some experience!
    Do I now believe in the “other side?” Hmm, I’ll call myself an agnostic on the subject. We all heard what we heard. I’ll leave it at that.
    Thanks for being our guest, and please feel welcome to return anytime. We’d love to have you back!
    –Michael 🙂


    1. Hello Michael,

      Centerville, IA is in the center of nothing. Legend has that it was named for a person, last name Senter, and then when the incorporation papers were filed with the state, some clerk either mistakenly spelled it with a “C” or presumed the farming community was low on literacy and believed they were doing the town a favor by grammar correcting the name. Either way, it was filed with a C and retained it ever since.

      Best wishes for you forthcoming Mac MeClellen novel.

      I must say I am quite skeptical of the device you mentioned, though your experience sounds intriguing. As I understand it, it work s by surfing radio frequencies, of which living humans produce a great deal. It would be only a matter of time before audio of a human voice was found. My question would be what length of responses did the voices ever give, and how many questions went unanswered? Next time, ask the spirits to recite the pledge of allegiance, or their favorite bible quote, or the full names of their mother and father. My suspicion is that it doesn’t string together responses of several words for a lengthy answer, only one and two word responses. If so, my skepticism would only grow. Though it does sound like a lot of fun.

      Thank you for having me.

      Channing W.


    1. As a fiction author, (8 novels) how many times have I heard, “Oh, I only read non-fiction?”
      Nuff said! Thank you for your insightful and important comments. Radine


  3. Thanks for the thoughtful post.
    “when you’re making up a story you intend for people to read and then hopefully tell other people to read it as well, as all us fiction writers hope, that story most certainly needs to entertain.”
    I’m sure you’ll agree that there are all sorts of ways to entertain. Some fiction finds interest and beauty in seemingly mundane objects.


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