Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fiction Is Harder Than Fact

This is a verbal hazard light to warn those that some unadulterated navel-gazing is ahead and reader discretion is advised.

I've always fancied myself a good writer. Now, before anyone feels obliged to step up and testify on my behalf or scoff at the absurdity of my statement, keep in mind that I'm not asking for a virtual pat on the back (or spit in the face), but simply prefacing what I'm about to say with an assertion about my mindset. That means I'd be most grateful if both those inclined to offer applause and jeers could hold themselves in check. I'm pretty sure this won't place any undue strain on anyone.

At any rate, despite my confidence in my ability to write about life, my opinions, or develop a theory, I've never had any confidence whatsoever in my ability to craft fiction. Perhaps this stems from the fact that I'm one of the worst liars in the world and am too self-conscious to spin a good tale. Perhaps it's just something I'm really crap at because, after all, no one is good at every aspect of something. There are people who are great bakers but can't cook, so perhaps I'm good at non-fiction and poor at fiction. The only thing I'm sure of is that it's not related to a lack of imagination or a dearth of creativity.

To be honest, it's always been my opinion that a lot of fiction authors aren't actually all that good at fiction either. In fact, I think a good many fiction authors write as if they were living out their personal fantasies and acting on deep-seated psychological needs in a relatively predictable and pedestrian fashion. On the occasions when my husband and I have read the same novel, I can almost always tell him how it will end or what lays ahead long before the conclusion.

You've reached the next sequence of hazard lights warning you that (potentially pretentious and irritating) references to novels you may never have read or heard of are about to come. You can detour to the paragraph after next if you'd like to continue on and avoid this particular bumpy portion of the road.

For instance, in the Dark Tower series, I knew what was going to happen to Roland when he entered the top level of the tower and I knew what was going on with Ender in Ender's Game pretty much from the start of his recruitment. The main difference is that Stephen King took me down a long and unpredictable path before I guessed the end and Orson Scott Card seems to be playing out the same battle with his repressed/suppressed homosexual impulses in every series he writes. Card is the ultimate example of someone playing out his stale needs and wishes again and again in his fiction. It's a rare author who can surprise me, and an even rarer one who can hold my interest through multiple novels. I think part of the reason Kurt Vonnegut has always held appeal for me was that he was so screwed up that it'd probably take another schizophrenic to divine his story's conclusions.

Because I believe writing good fiction is so challenging, I have great respect for anyone who can do it well and am pessimistic when folks talk about how they believe everyone (mainly themselves) has a "good novel in (them)." I think most people have pretty crappy novels in them. The only difference between myself and those types is I've never had a desire to weave a tapestry of my needs in the cloak of a fictional story and proudly offer it to others for their entertainment. I think we should be focusing on using our fantasies mainly to entertain ourselves internally and that really great fiction comes from having a great story or idea at its core, not the author's need or wish fulfillment.

At any rate, that's not to say I hate all fiction or fiction writers but just that I think it's a far greater challenge than nearly any other sort of writing. This is a fact that has been brought home to me as of late because I started a site for fun devoted to some fanciful "in" jokes that my gaming friends and I have had for years. While I tend to find writing for this very site that you're reading now (provided you weren't diverted by the hazard lights) very easy and posts pretty much roll easily from brain to fingertips, writing for this new site has been a serious challenge as the content is fictional. Fortunately, it's fiction which serves a select audience of 4 (me, my husband, my sister, and my friend Shawn) and is always written around a central concept so there's a focal point to work from. However, even so, a short post there can take several days to develop. It's a good challenge, mind you, and an immensely gratifying one when I think a post "works".

So, perhaps I'm too hard on fiction writers and the efforts I make on the other site will teach me some respect and empathy for what they face. Somehow, I doubt it.


Alex said...

I think a lot of great authors might disagree with you.

Chuck Palahniuk was a truck driver when he was suddenly struck with the idea to write a novel for contemporary men who lived in a world where bookstores seemed to only stock novels for contemporary women.

George Orwell had to go through two major life experiences before producing Animal Farm and 1984, the first serving in India resulting in his hatred of Imperialism, and the second serving in Spain where he was exposed to fascism. He had been writting essays for years before that.

Douglas Adams once said the most difficult task is giving the impression that a novel was easily written. His initial notes were always terribly complicated.

I think a considerable amount of people have a good story to tell, but you can't just sit down on any old Tuesday and write a book of it. It takes years of dedication and experience for the average person to put something good on paper, and most people aren't willing to do that.

Also, I've heard it before but I don't subscribe to the Freudian school of thought - Where in any of the Ender's Game series is anything homosexual presented?

Claytonian said...

How is Orson Scott Card homosexual?

Shari said...

I'm pretty sure a lot of great authors would agree with me but a lot of not so great ones wouldn't. I'm not talking about people like George Orwell (or Douglas Adams) and I never heard of Chuck Palahniuk. The vast majority of fiction doesn't fall into the George Orwell caliber writing category. Orwell, like Vonnegut, was an anti-utopian (commonly referred to as "dystopia" these days) novelist. Such writers are making social commentary through fiction and tend to structure their writing along a certain backbone of thought. It's a genre I love and find enjoyable in fiction.

For every Orwell, Adams or Vonnegut out there, there are hundreds of Terry Brooks. The vast majority of writers are not in the club of great writers that you use as an example.

As for Card, I'm not talking about one book but three series of books and some of his short stories. Haven't you noticed how all of his male characters have shallow and unsatisfying (sometimes obligatory) relationships with females but all of them have agonized desires for intimate relationships with men and suffer when they are rejected? Didn't you notice that Nefai allowed his brother to beat him senseless and treat his wife and family like crap while all the while passively wishing only that his brother would love him? He didn't even think about his wife as he was only obsessed with how his brother perceived him.

The relationship Ender had with his wife in later books in the series is the epitome of someone who subjects himself to an unfulfilling and passionless relationship out of obligation which mirrors that of a repressed homosexual doing what he thinks he has to rather than what he wants to. Card keeps repeating this pattern *and* writing articles for the Mormon press about how God wants homosexuals not to act on their desires and attempt to live a "normal" life.

There's also a short story where Card has the same man executed again and again in extremely hideous fashion because of a character trait that he will not extinguish at the behest of the state. Along with all his needy, weak men who want nothing more than to be loved and guided by men and seem to have passionless, shallow, poorly-defined relationships with women, this screams of someone trying to destroy something in themselves.

With Card, it's so much more obvious because of the repetition and his very public anti-homosexual agenda.

Rhoda said...

I believe most writers write to release something out of themselves, to get it off their chest, to make it "real", and not just a concoction of the lonely mind. Maybe if you haven't got it inside you, you just haven't, but perhaps one day you will.

I'm in the middle of researching and writing for my own book as I type, and my main reason for doing it is because I feel like it's the right time to start.