Why does fiction make us feel so emotional sometimes? Rationally, my mind knows that the stories I read aren't true and are all completely made-up, but even knowing this, I can't help but find myself tearing up at certain well-written stories. Is there any reason to feel this way at all or is it all just a waste of emotion?

This raises a concern that goes back to Plato and Aristotle! Aristotle thought the function of art should be to bring us into an emotive state that would be the kind of state we would be in if the events depicted truly took place. "The plot...must be structured... that the one who is hearing the events unroll shudders with fear and feels pity at what happens which is what one would experience on hearing the plot of the Oedipus." Aristotle thought that experiencing a performance of some tragedy --which we know is not a reflection of what took place historically -- can be a way of refining our moral or ethical character and judgment. He thought our ability to make and experience works of art involving possible events --that did not occur in our world-- is a reflection of our greatness as humans.

One way to articulate what takes place when we emote over characters in fictions is that the fictional work can be likened to a world. So, there is the world of Oedipus in which the main character kills his father and marries his mother, etc. Though our imaginative engagement, we can *as it were* enter that world, perhaps through the imaginative identification with a character or assuming the position of a witness or observer. A classic paper on this topic is "Fearing Fictions" by Kendall Walton. It is reprinted in the current, most widely sold anthology in aesthetics: Aesthetics; A comprehensive Anthology ed by Steven Cahn and Aaron Meskin.

You should also read, "How Can We Be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina?" by Colin Radford, and the literature that developed in response to it.

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