Sunday, November 9, 2008

What Fiction Means to Me

I’ve recently been asked by a student, of all the types of writing, why fiction? Why not non-fiction, or poetry? The truth is that I see value in all forms of writing, but my particular sensibilities drift toward fiction. Why?

I reject the idea that fiction is purely escapist. I think there are a fair amount of those kind of writers, and those type of readers. I have been one in the past and will probably be one at some point in the future, but the idea that fiction only provides a means to escape reality is an opinion held by those who do not, or perhaps cannot, take the printed word seriously. Serious fiction has a way of awakening the right type of reader to certain truths that stated otherwise, might seem absolutely absurd—like this blog entry is starting to sound kind of absurd…if I were any kind of fiction writer, I might be able to think of a metaphor or allegorical anecdote involving a chicken and a peacock, but at this point, I don’t think it’s possible because I’m still defining (by writing the truth of how I feel) my position.

Serious fiction is emotional autobiography; it may be a dream crafted to communicate a period of intense turmoil, joy, disappointment, fear, love, etc. An experience that has gestated in the writer’s subconscious. A good example is Tim O Brien’s The Things They Carried. Tim O’ Brien carried around his experiences from the Vietnam War until he was able to find a method to give them voice. The Things They Carried is a work of fiction, and it amazes me to this day that Tim O’ Brien a) doesn’t have children b) made up the story “On the Rainy River.” Many books of fiction have been written by individuals who have survived war (it seems the most literal example of an intensely emotional experience that I can think of right now)—A Farewell to Arms is one, For Whom the Bell Tolls is another. Someone learning to appreciate serious fiction (sometimes it’s hard to appreciate an experience like A Farewell to Arms because emotionally, it’s second, and just barely, to being kicked in the privates) might ask why didn’t Hemingway just give us the facts?

Maybe that’s just not how he was wired up. Maybe he spent so many years as a journalist, that he arrived at a certain contempt for what Bob Pope might call “truth unflavored.” I suspect that Hemingway, and all other fiction writers, just liked making things up.

The “facts” of our days are warped by our subconscious into dreams at night; so it probably goes with the writer of fiction. I imagine most writers, established and emerging, choose fiction because they see it as somehow more honest than truth. In most cases, the story’s probably much more interesting.

What do the rest of you think?

What are the arguments for non-fiction?



Mr. President said...

Your explanation of the different kinds of fiction was quiet refreshing, for the reason that I was quiet confused as to what "fiction" means to me. In past language arts classes, most of my teachers only talked of books as black or white (of course meaning fiction or non-fiction). I do in fact like a descent portion of fiction books, as in the books that fit into your serious fiction category. I only try to read books that have important meanings in them, which in most cases is why I shut myself off to fiction in earlier years. I find myself now understanding my likes and dislikes more accurately. I enjoy books that have a great deal of meaning in them, because I want to learn all I can at an early age, so I achieve my personal ambitions. I hate books that have no purpose in them; it makes me feel sick in actuality. I see so many possibilities for my life, but I have to use my time so preciously, for as Ork says, “The ultimate evil is that Time is perpetual perishing, and being actual involves elimination.”

It is so strange that I believed that I hated all kinds of fiction! I mean just three months before I told you that I didn’t like fiction, I read Enders Game, which is filled with fiction and I loved it! Ha, I feel so silly from all this, but I guess that it why you are the teacher and I am the student. The Old Man and the Sea, Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Things They Carried, Sophocles Three Theban Plays, Enders Game, and the list goes on for the fiction books I love… Thank you for opening my eyes to my blindness Mr. Skarl… my Captain! *Salutes*

John said...

"Is it true that in an anthill
dreams are a duty?" - pablo neruda

Sometime I think school is too much like an anthill.