Monday, September 09, 2019

Why write fiction?

I can't speak for other fiction writers, but speaking for myself:

i) I've seen or read countless stories in my lifetime. Most of them from movies or episodes in TV dramas. Former generations got stories from an oral culture, or novels and plays. But in modernity, film and television are the mass medium for stories–although there are literary types who primarily consume highbrow novels and plays. And for boys, comic books are another source. 

When you're exposed to so many stories, it makes you curious to try your own hand at the medium. If so many other people are storytellers, maybe you have a knack for it, too. Or maybe you don't. There's only one way to find out. 

ii) While it's enjoyable to read or see someone else's stories, especially if it's well-done, nevertheless, you're just a spectator. When you read their story or watch their movie, they make all the creative choice for you. Which is fine. But in addition to that, you may have a hankering to make your own creative choices rather than having it all decided by someone else. Up to a point it's fine to be the passive recipient, but there are times when you'd like to make your own creative decisions. Indeed, seeing them do it is a stimulus for you to give it a go. 

iii) Apropos (ii), sometimes, when I watch a movie or TV drama, it contains a promising idea, but after I've seen it I take it in a different direction in my imagination. I can play filmmaker in the private movie studio of my mind, and edit someone else's movie, or provide an alternate ending that's more to my liking. Maybe the film had a striking idea, an interesting dramatic premise, but I don't think it was developed to its full potential. It leaves me dissatisfied, but there's enough to it that I run with it. 

iv) In the real world, we must take reality as it comes to us–the good and the bad, interesting and boring, fulfilling and disappointing. In fiction we have the freedom to be selective. We can isolate the things we like, extend them, and reconnect them with other things we like. It's like designing your own world, where you're in control of all the variables. In the real world we have to rush when we'd rather linger and savor the moment–or, conversely, slog through the tedium to get to something enjoyable. But a fiction writer can linger over a scene he likes, as well as skipping over stuff that doesn't interest him.

Mind you, these need to be balanced. Consider the stereotype of the guy who spends all his leisure time playing video games. He needs more reality, not less. 

v) Fiction is a way to interpret experience. What makes life meaningful? What's important in life? Fiction is a sorting process. Because life is a gift, we have a duty to reflect on the value of life, not just take it for granted and fritter away the allotted time. Fiction is an effort to achieve understanding. There's experience in the raw, then there's the significance of what we experience. 

vi) Finally, when I'm out on a walk, sometimes a story idea just comes to me unbidden. I wasn't planning to write a story. I don't do it for any deeper reason than the fact that I suddenly have an idea for another story. 


  1. In addition, I'm not sure if I'm expressing it well, but I write to capture beauty, though beauty is often elusive. I guess like how a photographer might try to capture the "perfect" photo.

    Maybe related to the previous, I sometimes (far from always) write as I yearn. Like a prayer. Trying to touch the face of God, so to speak. Trying to reach out and connect with something or someone greater than reality itself. Maybe similar to why some scientists search for extraterrestrial intelligence or other worlds. Although this isn't strictly limited to fiction.

  2. Why J. I. Packer Reads Mystery Novels (Or, In Defense of Light Reading)

    Protestants have really dropped the ball when it comes to writing Christian fiction. Especially since capturing people's imagination is one of the quickest ways to augment people's worldviews toward one's own views. Non-Christians understand that and that's why they've made it a priority to produce imagination capturing and emotionally moving books, movies and plays. Why Hollywood doesn't want Christianity to get a foothold in their industry.

    Just today I finished reading Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. A book so epic and sweeping in its non-Christian view of reality, cosmic and supra-cosmic history that it's considered by many to be one of the greatest books of science fiction/fantasy ever written. I agree. Unfortunately, it's thoroughly anti-Christian in it's promotion of socialism, of humanity, and its speculations that seem to flirt with something like panentheism and panpsychism. C.S. Lewis is purportedly to have written that the ending of the book is "sheer devil worship". Yet, Lewis also wrote, "I admire Stapledon's invention so much that I should feel no shame to borrow." Stapledon's books, H.G. Well's books, as well as David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus are among the non-Christian books that have influenced Lewis' Space Trilogy. Lindsay's book is another mind blowing novel. When I read it I kept thinking, "He writes so well that it's a shame that his ability is going to waste in producing this non-Christian BS".

    Reading such books often leaves me longing to read a Christian novel that assumes a Christian worldview. Unfortunately, there aren't many that are either 1. well written and/or 2. are theologically informed. That's why I always enjoy reading Steve's short stories (e.g. his lastest one Here or Here). Or I'll read novels set in the past where Christianity was the dominant worldview (e.g. the Cadfael mysteries, the Sister Fidelma mysteries, the Shardlake mysteries etc.). Even if the Christianity in the story is some form of Catholic faith. Though, the Shardlake mysteries have a Protestant protagonist.

    Great Christian fiction doesn't even have to be overtly Christian. At first glance C.S. Lewis' book Till We Have Faces seems to be anti-theistic, even anti-Christian. But if one knows a little bit of theology and apologetics, one can see the brilliance of the novel. It's arguably Lewis' best work of fiction even though he doesn't solve within the story all the theological problems posed in the novel. Presumably, the reader is expected to know that as a Christian writer Lewis didn't think those problems were insurmountable. The fact that Lewis framed them in such a strong way ought to cause non-Christians to realize that Christians have thought about their objections to Christianity even more deeply than they have. That both non-Christians AND Christians often joke about how Christian movies and novels are NOTORIOUSLY bad is a terrible witness for Christ. Andrew Klavan repeatedly points out that during his conversion to Christianity one of his most heartfelt prayers was that God wouldn't turn him into a writer of sappy Christian fiction.

    1. From C.S. Lewis' preface to his book That Hideous Strength

      //I believe that one of the central ideas of this tale came into my head from conversations I had with a scientific colleague, some time before I met a rather similar suggestion in the works of Mr. Olaf Stapledon. If I am mistaken in this, Mr. Stapledon is so rich in invention that he can well afford to lend; and I admire his invention (though not his philosophy) so much that I should feel no shame to borrow. //