Creative Writing

What Is Fiction For?

A work of fiction is capable of not only entertaining, but also conveying truths about the human condition, often with greater impact than is attainable through nonfiction. Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn was commercially successful with lots of action, humor, and plot twists, but is classified today as classic literature because of its deep probing into the heart’s enduring problems.

A defining quality of great writing is purpose, what the work is trying to do. Does it point to universal truths about life while inviting the reader to participate in discovering them? The primary purpose of fiction is to entertain, but enduring fiction has a broader scope. In struggling with underlying ideas and themes, serious writers wrestle, wrangle, and prod language toward a higher purpose, which necessarily requires sophisticated technical skills that are often just beyond reach.

I try to achieve these basic goals: employ crisp, character-driven prose that evokes place and textures the fictional dream; write honestly about humans, not stock figures; and follow Hemingway’s advice to “. . . write one true sentence.” Once that goal is attained, other true sentences follow. Another guiding maxim comes from Chekhov, who maintained that the artist is not required to solve the problem but to correctly formulate it. I hope my stories produce anxiety as well as pleasure as the reader struggles to derive answers from correctly formulated problems.

Great fiction is born of pleasure and pain. Producing it is a daunting challenge that when successfully met will echo inside the reader. William Faulkner explained the struggle this way in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech:

        Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear, so long sustained by now  that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man, young woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

Welcome to the struggle! You can read all of Faulkner’s speech here: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGNzZGsxMi5vcmd8c3RlY2gtcy1jbGFzc2VzfGd4OjNjNDNmODNlMTdlNDEzNjA

 

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