Life in Fiction – An Argument for Less


It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does. ~ William Faulkner

The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its supreme purpose through him. ~ Carl Jung

I was one of those true believers. The edgier the story, the more fantastic the outcome, the more I loved it. Who adores our macabre or exhilarating human stories? It would seem we all do. We read, watch, listen to misery or – its twin – vainglory like a commodity we know exists “in the real” but to someone else, somewhere else. It doesn’t translate. When it does come home to meet us, we forget those narratives we were once so engulfed in. The macabre becomes that which we’d like to deny, forget. This process of subterfuge creates a culture that is both attracted to negativity and extremism, and opposed to personal acceptance of such.

As my writing life expands – and my personal understanding of life evolves – I find that I have developed an aversion to most fiction. Many of the novels and shorts stories I read rarely contain a redeeming point or overarching message to their melodramas. Even more exemplify a life lived stymied by fear, and thus dutifully put into print. I am infrequently moved by the concept, emotion or substance of fiction. Frankly, most of it is driven by ability to publish rather than a true call to meaning, vision and the art of writing.

I know this sounds incredibly pedantic. I am not reading fiction, however, as a writer; I read for the pleasure of reading. I try my best to put aside prejudices of style and form, and I simply allow myself to be carried away into the narrative. But the narrative is the problem. Wading through millions of books is overwhelming. It forces us to avoid the printed word for the very love of trees. There are simply too many books. Everyone I know is an “aspiring author” seeking personal redemption for a life under-lived. Pick up any number of pulp novels and tell me I am wrong.

Two of the most important rules of writing I was given are:

  1. Know what you know, and know it well, but don’t write about it specifically; no one cares.
  2. Live your life first – write later.

When I was a budding poet, I frequently wrote about my life, as I knew it then. When I read the older material now, it boggles me why anyone would want to walk the same steps as I walked through readership. And yet, when I wrote these stories and poems, I seemed to think they did. The personal can be very compelling. I do like wonderful storytelling from gifted writers such as Dorothy Allison. I do find some of the personal to be persuasive and intimate (while remaining well crafted). The difference I see between her style and those who monkey these skills is this: she does not tell her stories to supplement a stagnant existence – the woman, dare I say, lived it all and – given no audience – would have done what she set out to do.

An important question to ask every writer (or artist) is: why do it?

If the answer involves healing or getting any kind of validation in the form of reviews or publication, then please assess the necessity of what you are giving to the world. Perhaps it is better suited for your journal.

Beware of the writers…

If you find yourself falling into the perils of these patterns, consider getting outside critique and changing your habits and literary focus.

 He/She Who Wishes to Get Laid

You know the type. Everything they write is laden in some sort of sexual escapade where they are top performers. Really, it is quasi-soft porn and should be assigned as such.

He/She Who Wishes for Justice

They want heads on platters. Perhaps it is for good reason – but it is not something everyone else needs to know or to which be subjected.

He/She Who Wishes to be Indiana Jones

The band dork has grown up. Can there be bravado? Can there be lovelorn women draped on balconies or Grecian men serving wine? This writer will find a way to fulfill his/her earliest fantasies of coolness.

He/She Who Needs Friends/Admiration/A Real Living

No one wants to feel lonely, but writing is certainly no way to make friends. Most people think you’re creepy if you write anyway (because no one wants a friend who may divulge their secret psychological problems). Writing rarely is glamorous, either. Those who make any kind of living usually have to diversify through teaching and commercial writing.

I am sure readers will find other unsavory archetypes for us to ponder, and many of us have dabbled in most of the above, if we are willing to be honest.

To summarize: Let’s agree to reduce the verbal waste among us. Let us aspire to say something that matters – that engages – that connects us to wonder and growth. I am waiting for you, dear writers, in the Garden of Narrative. We have some butts to kick and some egos to shed.

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