A New-Old Thought on Writing Fiction

I remembered this after reading an article, I think in Poets & Writers, about how fiction is all about characters, creating believable, memorable characters & that didn’t seem right to me. That doesn’t locate what I seek or what I find in fiction.

One of the things I have to keep reminding myself of is that there are many models for fiction. Writing fiction seems daunting when I think of it in the journalistic sense – telling a story “straight”. Or when I think of writing historical fiction, with its copious research and endless opportunities for making a mistake. Or character-based fiction, that requires a consistent psychology. The reasons I don’t like reading Henry James (blasphemy), or the kinds of books we pick for my book club, once in a while (novels like The Girl Who Fell from the Sky).

But then I remember that I’ve always preferred alternative models, not through any willful posturing on the side of the experimental, but rather because of how those books struck me at a gut level. It’s about what the writing does rather than any personal attachment to the characters. For example, Kundera – it was the author’s insertion of himself into the story, the philosophical perspective he took that struck me, the gesture of standing back and moving the characters around while asking questions (The Unbearable Lightness of Being). Cortázar – the collage aspect of Rayuela, the play with words, play with form he enacts through the course of a single novel (and his sense of humour of course). Virginia Woolf – the intensely internal feeling of her narrative, the shifts in perspective (Mrs. Dalloway). And then alternative models like Violette Leduc & Marguerite Duras, something between memoir, journal & fiction, an unflinching voice that comes through. Anais Nin’s diaries, Julian Barnes… The writing stays, makes its mark, more than a straight-shooting noel.

(There are some exceptions. James Baldwin’s Another Country I love, J.D. Salinger’s characters are like people to me. Lorrie Moore’s stories.)

I have to keep this in mind when forging forward with writing prose, so it feels like a place I’m welcome in & like it’s something I want to do.

Related reading: more Lydia Davis!