What is Fiction For?

Posted By on January 4, 2016

Unquestionably, there is a lot of bad fiction. I do not mean bad as in poorly written, but bad as in drawing people away from truth and therefore, from authentic meaning. But we live in a bad world, full of evil, selfishness, greed, lust, confusion, despair, meaninglessness. Of course we will find many of our cultural creations steeped in spirits such as these to express the qualities of those spirits.

But there also those among us who are undoubtedly writers, dreamers, and creative types. Visionaries. People with a vision or a truth on their heart want to share it with others, and this is where most of the best fiction comes from.

It is also unquestionable that the faculty of the imagination is a thing which men have, which is inspired and arrested by their sense experiences. From our experiences and sensations, phantasms whole and entire, incredible mixtures of those impressions, are forged in the form of ideas which captivate us, and are strung together leading us to the apprehension of truths… or illusions.

John Gardner says in “The Art of Fiction” that such art is largely succeeded in through the creation of a believable “fictional dream”–an uninterrupted experience of sensation and experience, as we see our imaginations carried and formed by the story. Well-done fiction does not interrupt this fictional dream, and it carries it to a satisfying conclusion. This is why readers become so infuriated with fiction that makes promises it doesn’t keep, that throws them out of believability of the story in some way. Readers resent a story that makes itself, in the experience of itself, unbelievable. Some of this has to do with the basic craft of storytelling, which we all have an instinct for. We may now know how to create a well-written novel, but we sure know it when we read a poor one.

The craft of storytelling is an objective craft, in a sense, because it follows the rules and design of the human imagination, and how to affect it.

It can be difficult, after this, to disentangle the many influences and spirits that are crowding into our minds, co-opting our imaginations. Artists have always spoken of “the muse”–wherefore their particular inspirations they could not pin down to coming simply out of themselves.

So much of our imaginations in these times is co-opted by evil, by falsity, by dissipation, by all sorts of forces that do not lead us closer to virtue, or to truth, or to beauty. We are carried along by the influence of the things around us. A beautiful building, or a homey one in which love and care is expressed, will give us a good feeling as our senses communicate to us through the art of man’s creation. An ugly, restrictive building will communicate something else to us, subtly as well as obviously. We don’t like being in it, it may give us a low-level anxiety as something in is wonders and finds wanting “why would people put time and effort into such a monstrosity? what does this imply for their hope, their meaning in life?”–we are discouraged, even anxious.

Art, then, has a responsibility for what it expresses–for how it directs the human imagination. People hunger for meaning and immersion, and they will take what they can emotionally connect to. Human beings, for all their amazing capacity for reason, are largely not ruled by reason, and this is why we have art–it is an intentional use of the imaginative faculty to form people according to truth and virtue. To draw them, by means of the imagination, closer to reason, meaning, beauty.

Yes, art is often used as merely an outlet for an artists’ emotional flailings and frustrations. It is a working-through, for some people, of all of the impressions and experiences that often overwhelm sensitive people. We do not pay attention, sometimes, to how we ourselves are being co-opted. To create for ourselves an intentional life is a responsibility that we all have, so that we can better those around us, and for artists this is particularly important. What we create comes out of ourselves, and the old adage “garbage in, garbage out” is particularly true in the realm of artistic expression.

One of my housemates told me that I live like a cloistered nun, but hey, I have my reasons!

My imaginative “diet” is nearly as restrictive as my nutritional one, and yet it is not as restrictive as I would ideally imagine it to be were I actually a nun–but there is also a reason perhaps that this is not the case… for lacking the appropriate sanctity for a religious life, perhaps I can do more good with still some attraction or care to the vagaries of things like stories. If my adherence to truth and goodness and beauty can help me or anyone else to navigate the muddy channels of sanctifying our lives, I will hopefully have contributed.

I don’t know, but I’m currently working on trying to learn to “do it right”… I started writing again. I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo, and am continuing to work on it, as it wasn’t finished at 50,000 words. It is at about 76,000 words now and still not finished, but I am determined to finish it, and then tear it apart to make sure it creates all things as they should be.

This is not an easy task, for I have blatantly misused my creative powers in the past, and I have my method of novel writing. I have always heard it said that re-learning something is harder than learning it the first time, and I am quite sure this is true. I have high hopes, though, that my endeavors, if slow and painful, will achieve some success in the end at portraying what I want to portray with fiction… edification and truth.

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