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On Fiction
Musings on Depicting Universal Reality: 12/15/21
I recently had two discussions about writing fiction, one with an active writer of three separate comic series and the other with a man who is taking a break from the craft. I was reminded in these discussions of Aristotle in his Poetics, writing that history is all well and good in the investigation of specific events and acts of the past. But that Story told deeper and broader truths that might be prophetic down through Time as well as connective across society, touching people with Truth separated by both the cataracts of Time and the veils of civics.
G is one of the hardest working writers I know. Despite working a job and traveling a lot, he is writing three separate sagas. He told me that he had been keeping up on my non-fiction posts but was not reading fiction at present. I told him that I went through that stage also. Back when I was writing The Sunset Saga and working, I only read nonfiction. Reading another author’s fiction while you write your own can be distracting, corrupting and even deadening.
We are cultivating a unique narrative voice.
Even today, I have difficulty mixing fiction and nonfiction writing, preferring to do them on different days. I like reading fiction while writing history in hopes of a stylistic inspiration. While writing fiction, I much prefer listening to history or non-fiction related to the setting or conduct of the story I am writing.
In terms of writing levels, G and I are both below the level of T. While all three of us have lived in shit-hole cities, had violent lives [which most writers lack] read a lot of books and have been generally alienated by society, T has what I call organic ability. He told me of a dream he had as a youth in which he was walking through a barn with long rows of stables on either side. Instead of horses munching hay, playboy bunny quality babes were munching hay—and he knew intuitively that they were his cattle.
So, while G and I toil long hours in the craft, I don’t see any reason why T should simply decline to write because he does not have the energy to put in a lot of work. [0] Because I don’t think he needs to work as hard. T has a natural anti-social equipoise that can be distilled directly into fiction without research, world-building and character development. Such writers can be stalled by standard advice that they “do the work” of writing, thus stifling their unique inspiration.
Below are the wells writers of fiction draw from beginning with the most shallow and stagnant sources and up to the most cascading sources of what Aristotle termed Universal Truth:
-1. Propaganda… Fiction inspired by ideology, philosophy, faith, patriotism and the mob mentality is perhaps the weakest, though sales are guaranteed from like-minded readers.
-2. Fiction… Story based on story, like songs about rock and roll, for instance, tend to be nearly as shallow and stagnant as propaganda-based fiction. Likewise, books written upon the inspiration got from lesser forms of writing, like comics, video game and movies will tend to be left in the dust bin of story as time wears on.
-3. Civics… Story based on family, legal and media drama tend to be the most formulaic. Good guy bad guy fiction falls into this area of trope-laden utopias.
-4. Science… As a basis for story, science has a rare chance of achieving genius. The fact that a story about how humans interface with their technology, could be as riveting as Space Cowboys and as drool as Cellular demonstrates the range. The fact that there are not a legion of social conventions [often untrue and usually over-used] easily employed as narrative crutches [look at the episode titles of some of the old Perry Mason TV shows] forces the science-based story to fall under its bland weight or to soar, depending on the execution. This is a good well for a particularly deft writing hand. The lower forms of inspiration, being 1-3 should be avoided when employing science.
-5. History… Like science, the writer that can avoid the pitfalls of overused formula and find the best method for depicting a period, will do well. Perhaps the best done historical fiction was the HBO TV series Rome, in which two soldiers were followed through a career that placed them in service to various great men of the age. [1]
-6. Alienation… In part, because a reader is singular, unique, and outside of the world he reads about, a writer’s talent is often based on his alienation from society. G, T and I are all highly alienated from normal human society. The litany of famous authors to commit suicide is testament to this. The key with this kind of writing, is to try and develop broad empathy from the necessarily narrow basis of alienation to avoid a mean and bitter narration. Hunter S. Thompson and H. P. Lovecraft, might be the best pure examples of this type of writer, with Robert E. Howard and Phillip K. Dick being a hybrid of this type and 8.
-7. Experience… The more one has seen with his eyes, the more he has heard with his ears from the mouths of real characters, the more one has acted upon the earth, the more real adventures one has had, the more authentic and energized his writing my be. Jack London, Mervyn, Peake, J. R. R. Tolkien, Hemingway [especially compared to Fitzgerald] Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ernst Junger, C.S. Lewis, Wolfe, Eddison, these are men who had deep life experience, even if in a brief and brutal war setting. In case of war, intensity of experience in a brief year or so can imprint on a mind as much back-light as a lifetime of less brutal experiences.
-8. Organic… or oddness of interpretation [rather than of vantage in 6]... The deepest and most potent well is that of pure inspiration, of a metaphoric mind sorting visions of the past with the future, impressions of the trivial with the possible. Like T’s vision of women munching hay before he had even known one, such a pure poetic gift, such as Aristotle likened to a reflection of Universal Truth, is an indication of a singular lens upon the world. It might take some calibration to bring that inspiration into sync with narration. Such was the wellspring that powered the alienation of Howard and Dick to rare and prolific heights, as it did the experience of Junger and Wolfe. From my reading, the best pure examples of the Organic poetic imagination were Clark Ashton Smith and Thomas Ligoti.
I hope that this crude sketch might inspire T to go along with his poetic nature and might help the rest of us, Like G and I, to triangulate our various sources of story creation into a more productive craft.
Notes
-0. Unless he simply lacks the desire, then forcing it might be a mistake.
-1. The use of historical artifice as a mirror out of the collective mind of the past and up through Story, might be used to great effect, even when not writing historical fiction, such as how Howard used historical artifice for a fantastical prehistory, how Wolfe used it for a fantastical “Ancient Future.” Even such bankrupt pastiche as Star Wars might use WWI German “Hun” imagery, the idea of “the Princess” of European fairy and of the samurai of feudal Japan into an endearing metaphoric stew.
-2. Recommended reading on artifice is on Steven Pressfield’s website from some 8 years past, author of Gates of Fire, Virtues of War, the Afghan Campaign, Tides of War, Amazon and the Legend of Bagger Vance.
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