Essay or Story

As a person interested in issues, sometimes I get a passion for a developing idea yet am unsure whether to express it as an essay or a story. Sometimes I write a critical essay, other times a short story. Why would I ever want to write a piece of fiction to lay out an idea that is tied to a societal problem? (Consider, for example, a political issue.)

Beyond the emotional impact a story can make that an essay can’t, there is another reason to choose a story.

Essay

In an essay, a writer must make explicit conditions. Readers judge every piece of the essay for alignment with their view of the world. They may know exceptions to the general situation the writer is working toward and withhold their belief on the utility of essay to the issue at hand. There may be many background conditions. A reader’s repeated focus on another way of viewing the situation washes away the power of the essay.

Story

In a short story, a writer can make the conditions the background reality of the character. The reader grants a natural willing suspension of disbelief if the writer carries the story well. The reader will accept those conditions, although they may know that certain exceptions exist, until the conclusion, which rests of the writer’s passionate view.

Paradigm Shift

As an idea becomes further separated from the reader’s status quo, the multitude of background differences can cause some readers to toss aside a critical essay as unbelievable. However the reader will often accept a story, with more divergence from their status quo and, if written well, the ending will evoke a paradigm shift to a new way of organizing events—at least for a moment or two.

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