An exchange of comments on Jim Murdoch’s blog set me thinking about what I want to read and what I want to write -- about my own standards for “good fiction.” This is not a new subject of contemplation for me. When I was editing the literary journal Prima Materia, I established three elements that were required in the work I published: Craft, Heart, and Truth. In the years since, I’ve decided to add another one: Philosophy.
My definitions of those terms are, of course, my own. They are entirely subjective and are always evolving. You may have different definitions, or entirely different criteria. Whatever works for you is valid.
Craft: Skillful technique. Confident, effective use of the writer’s tools -- vocabulary, grammar, syntax, rhythm, pace, structure, even punctuation. This is essential, bottom line.
Heart: Compassion for the human condition, empathy with one’s imaginary characters. An acknowledgment of the emotional component of experience, in balance with the physical and intellectual.
Truth: A sense of honesty or authentic communication, in which the author is not showboating or sacrificing believability for manipulative ends. This is not related to “facts” or “non-fiction.”
Philosophy: An underlying idea or worldview, especially when it feels like an enriching, exciting discovery. Best when under conscious control by the author, although frequently is a side-effect.
Somewhere at the intersection of these four streets is where I want to stand as a reader and as a writer, and where I tried to land with my collection, The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility. Perhaps my reader-self can let go of Philosophy occasionally. My writer-self can too, but then I find myself wondering, why bother? Storytelling is fun, but I feel compelled to serve something greater. And I get creative juice from “deep” ideas, the more esoteric the better. I’m on a path that includes group therapy and a little light study of nondualism and quantum physics, and I’m often excited to capture in my fiction all the awesome stuff I’m learning.
The main problem with this Philosophy thing is that it can too easily slide into over-concern with Theme, or even into Pedantry (oh, the horror!). So I keep in mind the truths expressed by Thomas McCormack in this essay,‘Theme’ and Its Dire Effects (thanks to Mark Barrett of Ditchwalk).
Any ideas on the subject you want to share? I’d love to hear ‘em.