Fiction is dying.

In USA Today’s most recent list of the best-selling books in America, seven of the top 10 titles are fiction, yet four of those seven are romance novels and three of the four make up the sadis­ti­cally themed “Fifty Shades” series. Most of the books on this list seem like the private col­lection of a lonely housewife rather than the com­pelling marvels of imag­i­nation and prose.

The appre­ci­ation of good lit­er­ature is waning in modern America and the problem stems from a fault in edu­cation. Not only should stu­dents be required to study great lit­er­ature, they should also be made to write fiction. Having both skills will engender an appre­ci­ation for truly great prose while per­pet­u­ating the art of writing a good nar­rative.

At Hillsdale College the required “Rhetoric and Great Books” courses give every student a per­spective of what makes great fiction. The college needs to offer stu­dents the chance to learn how to and to practice writing fiction. Hillsdale College needs an intensive cre­ative writing course.

John Somerville of the English Department said that Hillsdale used to offer a cre­ative writing course fre­quently, often taught by Somerville himself. With the departure of key pro­fessors in Hillsdale’s American lit­er­ature faculty, remaining pro­fessors seem to have less leeway with 400-level courses. The cre­ative writing course hardly ever shows up on the schedule these days. “Scriptwriting,” a theatre department course, is the only cre­ative writing course now offered in the cur­riculum and is only taught once every two years.

The art of reading and the art of writing go hand in hand. Knowledge of what con­sti­tutes good writing comes from reading examples from other authors. Many long-form writers, essayists, and jour­nalists swear by a code of knowing what greatness has come before them to pre­serve a standard.

In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien describes children as “capable of lit­erary belief,” meaning they can immerse them­selves in any well-con­structed sto­ryline. He calls for children to be con­di­tioned to appre­ciate good stories by being in con­stant contact with them. Tolkien argues that adults lose this capa­bility to become vul­nerable and open to imag­i­native stories unless induced by a great author.

Tolkien describes a great author as one who creates a “Sec­ondary World which your mind can enter.” The author creates a world that has truth to it and readers believe it because they are com­pletely cap­ti­vated. Tolkien creates Middle Earth in “The Lord of the Rings.” The reader becomes attached to the char­acters and invested in their actions and out­comes. It is an art to capture the minds of adults as if they had a child’s imag­i­native capa­bil­ities and vul­ner­a­bil­ities.

Tolkien and other great authors are remem­bered because their stories relate to the uni­versal reader. They speak truths in their nar­ra­tives that apply to humanity as a whole. The char­acters reveal our faults and embody our desires. Their out­comes and deci­sions rep­resent the model of our past and allude to our future.

Fiction is pow­erful because it is lim­itless, and the tra­dition of writing well needs to con­tinue. It can be done only if stu­dents are given the tools to improve their skills. And hope­fully with this added refinement, the work they produce won’t be called “Fifty Shades and Counting.”

Hillsdale makes every student take courses that stress the impor­tance of reading, but there will cease to be great new lit­er­ature to read unless someone also teaches stu­dents to write.

Moreover, con­ser­v­a­tives should not yield such an important aspect of culture. If Hillsdale College is willing to claim the rep­u­tation as a bastion of these ideals, it has an incentive if not a duty to encourage engagement in all cul­tural facets, including lit­erary fiction.