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Senior Capstone ℅ 2019

5-24-2019

The Power of Fiction: An Autoethnography

Andres Altamirano Jr
Los Angeles Leadership Academy HS, aaltamirano100925@laleadership.org
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Senior Capstone ℅ 2019

Abstract

Fiction opens up a whole new world to readers and leaves an impact on their lives. This

autoethnography will explain how examining fictional characters and exposure to fictional

experiences on adolescents impacts an individual’s socialization, academic performance, and

how they identify themselves.

Keywords: ​Fiction, Socialization, Experiences, Performance, Identify

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Los Angeles Leadership Academy for giving me a platform for me to
express how I feel about comics. I want to say thank you to my cousin because he introduced
me to superheroes, my mom for taking me to the library to read comics, and my dad for driving
me to the comic book store.
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The Power of Fiction: An Autoethnography

Andres Altamirano Jr
Los Angeles Leadership Academy HS, Los Angeles, California, USA

Fiction opens up a whole new world of possibilities to readers and leaves an impact on their

lives. This autoethnography will explain how examining fictional characters and exposure to

fictional experiences on adolescents impacts an individual’s socialization, academic

performance, and how they identify themselves.

The Incident

The day was bright. It was afternoon at the time and there were no clouds. I was waiting

patiently in a line, in front of my class line for my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Galindo, to arrive. To

loosen up a bit, I decided to tell the boy standing behind me a joke so I turned around and told

him in a joking manner “They painted the whole sky blue.” The boy looked at me in confusion

and turned around to tell his friends the same joke and they began to laugh among each other. I

turned back around and acted as if nothing had happened, and I saw Mr. Galindo waving at me

to lead the line to class.

The inside of the classroom was loud. I felt myself getting annoyed with everyone in the

classroom except for Daniel, who would always sit across from me. Daniel was the person I
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talked to most of the time, probably because his parents and my parents knew each other. Daniel

and I were friends from 1st grade and throughout the years I noticed that we were very different

from each other. He would always play with other kids during recess, while I never really found

outdoor activities to be fun, especially sports. I didn’t really take the time to talk to other kids

because of my previous attempts at interacting with some, which only ended in them walking

away or asking who I was. Instead, I would go to the library and read ​Beverly Cleary​ books. My

favorite one is definitely ​Ramona the Brave.

The end of the school day was cloudy. My parents would work around the time I got out

of school, so my uncle would have to pick me up. He asked if I wanted to stay with Carlos, my

cousin, and watch T.V. or if I wanted to get dropped off at my house. Without hesitation I chose

to go stay with my cousin, as he was my personal comedian. Not an actual comedian, he was a

year older than me so he was 11 years old. Once my uncle pulled up to the driveway, I raced to

the patio and almost fell due to the slippery floor, or maybe because I was clumsy all the time.

All of a sudden I heard a weird song coming from the living room, which sounded like a

distorted voice. No one was opening the door, so I let myself in and I stare directly into the

television screen. It was Spider-Man. I knew he was a superhero, but what I didn’t know was

that he had a cartoon, which was called ​Spider-Man​, yes, what a shocker! I went to sit on the

red living room couch while keeping my eyes glued to the television screen. I was hooked. I had
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never seen anything like Spider-Man. As a matter of fact, I convinced my mom to take me to

the public library near my house to check if they had comic books. They had plenty of comic

books about different superheroes. ​The Flash, Nova, The Green Lantern Corps, Daredevil,

X-Men, ​etc​. A
​ nd of course, ​Spider-Man.​ From that day on he was my favorite hero and I would

learn how to follow in his web swings. I decided to read many comics, little did I know they

would impact the days later to come.

The next few days felt different. Besides watching Spider-Man’s animated series, I also

began to read many of his comics and I began to read comics about a school for gifted

youngsters called X-men as well. I felt as if something spectacular was going to occur at any

moment of the day. Throughout those days I felt happier than I did before. It was not a cycle

anymore. I decided to go out of my comfort zone and try something new.

“We should join the science fair. It’ll be cool.” I was confident that Daniel was going to

like my idea, judging that I usually participate in some of the activities that he takes joy in,

which are the ones I secretly hated. Daniel said in a muffled voice due to him eating

Oreos,“That’s a waste of time. Aren’t you going to sign up for basketball?”

After Daniel said that, I felt hesitant to tell him that I didn’t enjoy sports. During this

interaction, it made me think of Spider-man. Actually, it made me think of the person under the
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mask, Peter Parker. Peter Parker placed me in a particular state of mind where I should do what

I like and like what I do.

“I don’t even like basketball. I only joined last year because… I didn’t want to be alone.

I’m going to join the science fair.” My chest felt heavy. I could feel my heartbeat getting faster.

I didn’t know what Daniel was going to say, but all he did was shrug and went to play

tetherball.

The sun was setting in as I went to room 202 to sign up for the science fair. As I entered

the room, many other kids were inside staring at me. The after school teacher asked me what

group I wanted to be in and in those few seconds I thought to myself “damn, I don’t even know

anyone here.” I decided to go to the group that only had two members. The after school teacher

gave each team a cup filled with water and a paperclip. “Okay, everyone try to make the

paperclip I just gave you to float in the cup of water.” I was confused when she said that

because I thought it was going to be easy, and what do you know? It was! I slowly put the paper

clip on top of the water and it didn’t sink. I looked around the other teams and I noticed that all

of their paperclips sunk to the bottom of the water cup. I turned to my water cup and said in a

joking manner “ Look, I’m Magneto.” The people on my team were Jose and Christopher and I

was confused because they began to look in amazement. They asked me if Magneto was my

favorite supervillain which to I responded “No. I really like Venom. He’s cool.”
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Analysis

Introduction

Fiction opens up a vast new world which readers can be emotionally invested in with the

characters in the story. The type of fiction I read is mostly from comic books. Comic books are

narratives that are expressed through images and dialogue and teach the readers how to be

empathic. There is a stereotype that comic books are childish and not as significant compared to

the other types of fiction. Even though comic books could be considered childish, comic books

give the readers a chance to escape the real world and find relaxation in the fictional world.

Study of Focus

From examining fictional characters and exposure, to fictional experiences on

adolescents, it is clear that literary fiction impacts a teen’s socialization, academic performance,

and self identification. Matthijs Bal and Martijn Veltkamp are two authors who contributed to

my topic by researching the skills and traits adolescents obtain from reading fiction. Hillary

Chute and Cynthia Bolton-Gary both contributed to the topic of literary fiction by researching

about the benefits fiction has on an adolescent’s academic performance. The book, ​Psychology

of Entertainment, b​ y Peter Vorderer and Jennings Bryant, goes in depth about how reading

fiction can be the solution to people finding themselves.

Teen Socialization

Fictional characters and exposure to fictional experiences on adolescents impacts their

socialization. Adolescents is the phase where people need to know how to socialize with others
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because it helps them to better prepare for the real world. Matthijs Bal and Martijn Veltkamp

(2013) wrote a research paper about how fictional experiences make an impact on adolescents’

socialization skills. Bal states “When an individual reads a story, emotions are triggered by that

story, such that an affective impression is elicited by the narrative,” (2013, para 5). Bal also

states “According to Goldstein [15], a person reading fiction tends to react more strongly

towards a story than when he/she would read a non-fictional story, because fiction provides a

safe arena in which a reader can experience emotions without the need for self-protection,”

(Bal, para 9). Readers of fiction can connect with the fictional characters, which can teach the

readers how to socialize in the real world. In a way, fictional characters act as a guidance to the

readers. Not only do fictional characters impact adolescents’ socialization skills, but they also

play a part in their academic performance.

In their research paper called ​How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An

​ atthijs Bal and Marijn


Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation, M

Veltkamp state:

The sympathy a reader feels for the characters is then integrated in the self-concept of

the reader, through which the reader accumulates his/her ability to take the perspective

of others, and to feel empathy [28]. Moreover, enhancement of empathic skills through

fiction reading can contribute to people’s goals of who they want to be in their lives,

such as to become a person that cares for other people’s welfare [29]. Hence,

sympathetic reactions to fictional characters are integrated into broader response patterns

in daily life, and empathic skills of the reader are enhanced [30]. (2013, para 7)
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Bal and Veltkamp are stating that readers of fiction are most likely to relate to the fictional

characters, which means they obtain empathic skills. An important part of socialization is

learning how others around you feel. If you know what the other person is feeling, you now

have an idea of how to approach them and socialize with them.

Reading literary fiction has helped me by giving me a place to find peace. During the

summer of 2017, I had a reoccurring feeling of anxiousness. This feeling caused me to stay

awake at night and never feel relaxed. I tried zoning out this feeling by watching shows, but for

some reason it did not help. It was not until I began to read a comic book series called ​New

Mutants​, where I started to feel safe. The characters in the story made me feel as if they were

real because they had personal problems and were grounded to earth. While reading a few

issues of ​New Mutants,​ I had realized that my feeling of anxiousness was gone. In a way,

reading helps you escape from reality. There are moments in your life where you need to take a

break from people and the real world and get lost in the fictional world. I felt overwhelmed

throughout the summer and needed something to make me feel calm and peaceful and I found

that in reading comic books.

Academic Performance

Another impact that fictional characters have on adolescents is that fictional characters

and their experiences benefit students’ academic performance. Many people have different ways

of really understanding a subject or topic. In this case, adolescents have a better way of

understanding through comics. In her journal called ​Comics as Literature?​, Hillary Chute

explains,“Highly textured in its narrative scaffolding, comics doesn’t blend the visual and the

verbal-or use one simply to illustrate the other..,” (Chute, 2008 para 1). Chute is saying that
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comics are a way to guide students to reach their learning goal, which is to stay focused and

understand the subject without difficulties . A reason why students might have difficulties in

understanding a topic is because the topic or subject is not interesting. Cynthia Bolton-Gary

says “Comics can be used to establish a positive affective context and interest in the theories of

teaching and learning, and encourage students to continue to reflect and think critically on the

best practices for learning and engagement,” (Bolton-Gray p.394). Students have a much

straightforward understanding when it comes to reading comics because it is engaging and

interesting.

In her paper called ​Connecting Through Comics: Expanding Opportunities for Teaching

​ ynthia Bolton-Gary discovers in her results that:


and Learning, C

Results from the end of course evaluations revealed that the comics made an impact on

how students perceived the course. Students reported a perceived overall enjoyment and

motivation to learn and apply conepts in the course to both quantitive prompts (average

of 3.87 out of 4.0 over five semesters) and qualitive open-ended responses indicated

24% specifically written qualitative responses regarding their sense of enjoyment in

learning in the course. (2012, p. 393)

Bolton-Gary explains that teaching in a more entertaining way benefits students by allowing

them to easily understand what they are being taught in class. In this case, an entertaining way

to teach a subject in class is through comics.

In freshman year of high school, my classmates and I were going to read ​Romeo and

Juliet, a​ nd I was not looking forward to it. I never quite enjoyed reading stories that took place

in the 1300s because their way of writing was difficult to understand in a few parts. Not to
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mention that if I did not understand what was happening in the story, I would not be engaged in

it and would not pay attention. When the teacher showed us the books we were going to read I

was relieved because some of them were graphic novels. This helped me by picturing an image

in my head of the main characters whenever someone would talk about them. Reading the

graphic novel also made it interesting because more details were noticable. This helped me

understand the novel better and also keep me engaged.

Figure 1.​ Romeo & Juliet: The Graphic Novel. The tale of star-crossed lovers

Self Identification

From examining fictional characters and exposure to fictional characters on adolescents,

it is apparent that literary fiction impacts a teen’s self identification. During their adolescent

age, people do not know who they truly are and have difficulty in trying to identify themselves.

People say to find yourself you need to isolate yourself to understand your priorities and seek
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out your passion. In ​Psychology of Entertainment, ​Jonathan Cohen states “By allowing us to

share in the lives of others, entertainment can excite and educate us, can make us imagine, think

and feel in ways we may not otherwise have a chance to experience,” (Cohen, para 183).

Readers of fiction have a chance to escape the real world and get lost in the fictional world

where they can find themselves. When readers are engaged in the fictional world they can begin

to believe they are in the situation in which the hero is in. This allows the readers to express

their emotions more openly because they believe they are the hero in their own story. In her Ted

Talk, Danika Lee Massey says “Comparing yourself to characters that you love and hate is a

really fun and interesting way in learning how to embrace your true self ” (Massey, 12:56).

Readers of fiction have role models that are fictional characters, so they can be a guide of

helping the reader understand who they are; finding their passion.

In the summer of 2016, I was not really sure if my friends and I were all going to spend

time with one another because people have always said that friends separate from one another. I

did not want that to happen, so I began to think of things we could do in the upcoming school

year, 10th grade. During that time, a new comic book series called ​Titans, ​written by Dan

Abnett and drawn by Brett Booth, was released and I went to the store to buy it. The story was

about Wally West who disappeared for a long time and returning years later, but the world

never knew he existed. Wally goes through extreme measures to reunite with his friends and

family. The only problem is that once he does find his friends and family, they do not remember

him. Wally begins to remember the days that he was with his friends and family and realizes

that he should not have taken those moments for granted. This story opened my eyes about

spending time with my friends and family and to always make the most out of it.
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Opinion

I believe all of these impacts of fictional experiences on adolescents are true and I can

relate to them. I agree that exposure to fictional characters on adolescents impacts them on in

socialization with others because that has happened to me. After reading comics, I managed to

socialize with people who also had the same interest, and with the people who didn’t read

comics. Comics impact academic performance because if I try to understand something, it will

be easier if I relate it to something in the fictional world. I heavily agree with how comics

impact how adolescents identify themselves because I continue to experience it. I continue to

read comics and the heroes continue to teach me things that people in life don’t teach me about.

They taught me that life does not give us purpose, we give life purpose.

Conclusion

Many people underestimate the power of fiction. People believe that fiction does not

benefit adolescents compared to other genres of literature, but that is false. Fiction allows teens

to take a break from the real world and relax by getting lost inside fictional stories. Readers of

fiction also show a better understanding of a subject matter easier because it involves a form of

literature that they find interesting and engaging. Fiction is also a guide to teach people how to

socialize.
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References

Bryant, J., & Vorderer, P. (Eds.). (2006). Psychology of entertainment. Mahwah, NJ, US:

​ etrieved rom
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. ​Psychology of Entertainment. R

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-03355-000

Bal PM, Veltkamp M (2013) How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental

Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation. Retrived from

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0055341&type=pri

ntable

Bolton-Gary, C. (2011, November 30). Connecting through Comics: Expanding Opportunities

for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED533545

Tedx Talks, (2014) Using comic book characters to identify your true self: Comicbookgirl19 at

TEDxClaremontColleges

Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGtNFHtM81A

Chute Hillary, (2008) Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative

Retrieved from https://www.mlajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1632/pmla.2008.123.2.452

McDonald, J. F. (n.d.). Romeo and Juliet: The Graphic Novel (Volume). Retrieved from

https://comicvine.gamespot.com/romeo-and-juliet-the-graphic-novel/4050-57656/