Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fiction that Endures

I find the study of fiction fascinating. Why do we tell stories? This began a quest that has been both rewarding and enlightening.

On the surface one might say that people read stories because they want escape. They want to be entertained. That alone didn't satisfy me, because for me it wouldn't justify my wanting to become a writer. Why, then, does the world need another story about cat-eared aliens or tiny elves? I was looking for a contribution that would be more lasting.

I stumbled on an essay that was written in 1918. I found it very enlightening. You can find the entire article here.

Fiction is a means of telling truth. It is the human experience, distilled, and placed in a setting where those experiences can be lived vicariously. Have you ever read a story, and had an overwhelming feeling that the author was telling a true story, only to find out later that the whole thing was made up? For a perfect example, how many people have listened to (or read) the lyrics of "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins? (here is a Wikipedia link) I bring this up as an example because it is short, and it illustrates my point entirely. People ask Phil Collins all the time to tell them what was the story behind this tale? He says there is none. He made it up in a moment of creative passion.

If you hear a story and are compelled to wonder if it was true, and the answer matters to you somehow, then (in my opinion), fiction has done its job.

Along these lines, here are my favorite generes, and the way the human condition is explored. I don't think any one story encompasses all of these elements; merely, any given story that is well-written will explore at least one of these themes in depth.

Science Fiction:
  • A newsweek article I read stated, "Science fiction, by nature, comments on the time in which it's made, pustulating a future that is either better or worse depending on what we make of the present.

  • On the list of writer's guidelines for "Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine," we find this bit of advice: all fiction is written to examine or illuminate some aspect of huan existence...in science fiction the backdrop you work against is the size of the universe.

  • Man against the universe

  • Dealing with the moral and ethical delimas of scientific discovery

  • Man dealing with the speculative limitations of biology, physics, ocial science, mathematics, or logic

  • Considers one or more aspects of human nature when stretched (usually supernaturally) beyond the extreme.

  • Man against the supernatural

  • Man attempting to understand the nature of life, and the reason for existence.

  • Questions of morality, principle, and duty.

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