It's a snow day here in Cincinnati. School is cancelled and I've had plenty of time here at home to do homework and some writing (like right now).
In the past month, I've had a couple short story manuscripts in the works that really dragged me through the mud before I got them to stay put. On the publication front, it's easy to get discouraged by the number of rejections you get for what you believe are your best stories.
Finally, I just have to sit down and think--why fiction at all? Why do we write it, and why do we read it?
It's time for the Electric Didact!
I mean really, have you ever asked yourself this question?
Why does fiction exist?
One obvious reason is for entertainment. But that doesn't account for all of it. Some fiction is clearly not made for entertainment (Native Son, anybody? No? You wanna watch The Goonies again?).
What about expression? Well, as anyone who's been to a beginner creative writing class will tell you, at least one function of writing is the exercise of free personal expression. An abstract idea, to be sure--but then, we are dealing with some abstract stuff here.
But, laying aside more and more elementary questions (like what and who counts as fiction, etc.), this kid may be on to something...
So this means that the freshman in creative writing 101 is right--fiction is about personal expression. This is one reason we have fiction at all: the fable told to the child in order to pass on a particular moral; the short story that features an unlikeable protagonist; the novel whose main character is a middle-class white male; the movie that ends with the prettiest guy getting the prettiest girl; the one that includes a car race with one white male, one black male, one latino male, and one asian female--who wins?
Each of these are situated within a social/historical context and either break it or buy it (and sometimes both).
Expressing Status Quo, or No
As any social constructivist will tell you, we are what we read, watch, listen, think, etc. Through life we take in information, interpret it, and either reproduce it, resist it, or discard it.
(by the way, that's a big oversimplification for sake of my topic)
Its the same with literature (in this case, fiction). All fiction resides within the social contexts of its creation, and either supports the status quo, resists it, or ignores it (which some would say still supports it). This means that when we create fiction, we're implicitly and explicitly making an argument for or against the status quo, the social/philosophical/ideological/discursive/religious/etc. context in which the writing of our fiction takes place.
Writing of poetry (another form of fiction, for our purposes), Richard Hugo writes about the process of writing truth within the frame of something false (fictive), and it sheds a little more light on why we take in and create fiction:
"The poem [or story] is always in your hometown, but you have a better chance of finding it in another. ...At home, not only do you know that the movie house wasn't always there, or that the grocer is a newcomer who took over after the former grocer committed suicide, you have complicated emotional responses that defy sorting out. With the strange town, you can assume all knowns are stable, and you owe the details nothing emotionally. ...
Once these knowns sit outside the poem, the imagination can take off from them and if necessary can return" (The Triggering Town, p. 12).
Essentially, Hugo is saying that this type of creation requires distance from what is actual, real. You may be writing/filming/telling a story about something that really happened to you--say your parents' divorce, unfair treatment of minorities, father-daughter relationships--but the imagination will be locked down until you "find it in another town," or set it within a different frame--this is fiction. And this is where we get theme.
We can look at a movie or a story and see what it is on the surface (a movie about monsters going to college) while also gleaning something underneath (the dynamic of friendship between members of different social strata, the inequalities inherent in university structures). But it's not a documentary--it's made up!
Isn't it great?
This distance combines with the author's insight, both knowledge of the skin of the story and its theme, or base. This can also be insight into the reader/watcher and what they get a kick out of. All these things come into play to make fiction, and...well...
we need it.
And maybe that's a fine enough reason all by itself.
What do you think? Let's talk about WHY FICTION in the comments or on the Facebook page.
Jedd Cole is a professional writer and author of short speculative fiction. He resides in Ohio where he is completing a degree in Rhetoric & Professional Writing, crafting short stories in every time-nook he can find, all while frequenting the pages of imaginary worlds with his wonderful wife, Heather, and no pets. None.