One question too many?

Lately, I’ve spent more time thinking about writing than I have writing. Though exactly what I’m thinking about is probably not what you imagine. I’m questioning why. Why do I write fiction? Why does anyone?

Non-fiction has an obvious reason to be. What is the purpose of fiction? Would you say it exists to explore the human condition? To illustrate the beauty and complexity of language? To convey universal truths? Would you say those reasons best describe literary fiction?

So then, what of commercial fiction. Is this fiction meant to simply entertain? Does it matter that it’s only a temporary thrill, fright, mystery, heart throb? So what if none of these books will ever be deemed a classic, they serve a purpose, right?

Of course, many books fall in-between those two categories. Every book has its readers . And with the ease of self-publishing nowadays, all authors have the opportunity to share their stories. They don’t need permission. They’ve deemed readers as the gatekeepers now. Should they have?

I question why I write, why I think my stories have any reason to exist outside my own head. Is it an act of hubris to foist my imaginings on others? Who am I to take such a step? Who am I?

Forgive me for thinking aloud in this post. I’m not seeking affirmation. I’m just wondering. And I’m thinking this is something I should have questioned long before now. Don’t you think?

20 thoughts on “One question too many?

  1. Good questions. I think that whatever is written should be written well, in respectful appreciation of its audience and of the story the writer is trying to tell. After all, whether the material is fiction, non-fiction, literary or mass-appeal, the *primary aim is communication of something the writer is thinking to someone else who has not thought it. If you do that, then your reader gains by hearing another voice and exploring an imagined environment by the proxy of another’s experience.

    People are usual horrified to find themselves imagining killing or harming a family member or pet but, psychologically, this is very often a way of confronting ones’ self with a dread or fear and rehearsing the emotions of loss. I think fiction does much the same thing, giving people vicarious ways of experiencing tragedy and trauma, full-on romance, exoticism, eroticism, and all the rest, without risk. I’ve travelled millions of parsecs without undergoing any inconveniently arduous astronaut training, and a good many NASA scientists boldly went to university to figure out how to build the warp engine they would never have thought of without Star Trek.

    I think fiction prepares us for life events, imagines extremes for us to test ourselves against, and gives some people the ideas they need for invention and innovation. It’s disappointing to be still waiting for my personal beam-me-up badge though.

    *One assumes it isn’t just cynical sales

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    1. I think fiction prepares us for life events, imagines extremes for us to test ourselves against, and gives some people the ideas they need for invention and innovation. Yes! Thank you for your thoughtful response, Suzanne. 🙂

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    2. Suzanne, my first response to your comment felt inadequate, so I’m adding this. I love your comment about fiction giving us ways to experience vicariously fears and emotions. I’m glad I asked these questions because you and Ann have reminded me of things I knew once, but forgot. 😉

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  2. “So then, what of commercial fiction. Is this fiction meant to simply entertain? Does it matter that it’s only a temporary thrill, fright, mystery, heart throb? So what if none of these books will ever be deemed a classic, they serve a purpose, right?”

    I’m assuming you’re including speculative fiction in “commercial fiction”, and I had to laugh at the common misconception that it exists simply for entertainment.

    Firstly, no classics? You’re talking about mainstreamed classics, right? For science fiction, what about Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN (1818), George Orwell’s 1984 (1949), Ray Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451 (1953), and Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME (1985), to name a few? I’d wager that most Americans have heard of these novels. They are required reading at some public grade schools. ENDER’S GAME is even used in the leadership curriculum at West Point (U.S. military academy).

    Every scientist who reads fiction could probably name a dozen science fiction classics in the amount of time it would take you to ask for a list. Why? Because those novels inspired people to push our understanding of science, including the modern fields of sociology and psychology.

    To understand the meanings that fantasy has on humanity, and what our fantasies say about us, it helps to take a sociologist’s view of folklore. Modern fantastical fiction continues to follow tradition established when stories were only told orally.

    I do want to summarize one view on the differences in some commercial fiction, though. While Science Fiction (capitalized now to emphasize the genre) often pushes past society’s mores to take outsider’s view of what we treat as right and wrong, Historical Fiction often shows us what has and hasn’t changed in our views, and Fantasy often draws lines between right and wrong. Readers are drawn most to the genres that offer the perspectives, or reassurances, they want most.

    I haven’t read many mysteries that I can recall, and I’ve just recently started studying romances, so I won’t comment on those. But all fiction must serve needs that go beyond the need to stave off boredom. Why would people sacrifice sleep and forgot to eat while reading their favorite novels, if those novels didn’t offer something that was important to them?

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    1. Ann, I did mention fiction that falls between literary and commercial. And I would say classics are those that rise above their respective genres.

      Readers are drawn most to the genres that offer the perspectives, or reassurances, they want most. Interesting viewpoint. I appreciated your summary of the differences in commercial fiction. I’d never thought of it that way.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. 🙂

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  3. Ooh, I just read Ms. Conboy-Hill’s answer, and I’m more excited about your post, Linda. This topic isn’t discussed enough by fiction writers, I think. We all know we want to write, but can we elaborate on why it means anything to readers? Money couldn’t ever be enough of a reason, especially since readers must have a reason to read before novels could sell.

    Thanks for asking your questions.

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    1. Apart from your erudite and knowledgeable account of published material, I think we said much the same thing. I’m not sure I agree with your sub-comment though – I’ve bought many a book without knowing if it was worth the outlay. People can sell rubbish before they’re ‘outed’ as poor writers, and some continue to sell material many of us would argue is rubbish, to millions of readers.

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        1. I think the ones who buy books by an author they know, yes, even if others of us think it’s unadulterated tosh. Not so when they don’t know the author – they’ve spent both their money and their time on the tosh before they can decide not to do it again. Cynical authors may capitalise on that, having greater access to the means.

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      1. I wrote, “Money couldn’t ever be enough of a reason, especially since readers must have a reason to read before novels could sell.” What I meant was was that if no one read fiction, then no one would buy it. If no one bought it, then writers couldn’t make money off of their fiction. It was a silly comment, though. If no one read, no one would write. Writers wouldn’t know how.

        I rarely buy books without having read them first, and I forget that some people regularly buy novels they’re mildly curious about. I think that’s awesome–there’s no library due dates nor having to remember who loaned which books and when they’re expected back. I’ve simply never had the funds for that approach. One day, maybe.

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  4. You ask great questions. Why bother to write fiction? It can be so trivial and yet it can also be powerful, offer insight, suggest solutions to ongoing problems and take us down paths we didn’t know existed.

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  5. So what if there is no deep meaning behind the reasons why we write? What if we just want to play and have fun? If others want to come along, the more the merrier, I say. Those who will want to be a part of the worlds I create are welcome to saddle up. Those who don’t can go play with someone else..I didn’t twist any arms back on the playground and I’m not going to do it now. We were born to create and enjoy life. While I often like to look for a deeper meaning for things, like maybe I’ll bring about world peace with my words, the time I spend looking and digging and thinking, could be spent creating. 🙂

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  6. I think every individual is meant to realize his/her talents, and put them out there (literary, artist, mechanical, maternal, whatever). We cannot possibly understand the full context or meaning, given our limited perspective. So just go forth!

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