Friday, May 22, 2015

Value In Fictional Writing? or Why Bother?

In the May 10th New York Times Book Review section, Tom Perrotta began his article about “A God In Ruins” by Kate Atkinson this way:

“In recent years, a number of talented novelists have experienced a sudden and alarming loss of faith in their chosen literary form. David Shields thinks most novels are boring and disconnected from reality. Nicole Krauss is “sick of plot and characters and scenes and climax and resolution.” Rachel Cusk has decided that conventional fiction is “fake and embarrassing.” Karl Ove Knausgaard goes even further, dismissing the entire enterprise: “Fictional writing has no value.”
This distaste for the clunky machinery of traditional narrative fiction has spread quickly. Some of the most interesting “novels” of the past few years — Teju Cole’s “Open City,” Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation,” Ben Lerner’s “Leaving the Atocha Station,” not to mention Knausgaard’s epic, “My Struggle” — are barely novels at all. They read more like memoirs, or a series of lightly fictionalized journal entries, recounting the mundane lives and off-kilter ruminations of their first-person narrators, who are either postgraduate students or blocked writers. There’s a bracing smallness to these books — even those of Knausgaard, who’s a miniaturist on a gargantuan scale — and a serene indifference to what has long passed for ambition in the novel. There’s no plot and barely any action, very few characters, no shifting points of view or tricky chronologies, no attempt to recreate a distant era or illuminate the inner workings of a particular society at a particular moment in time. There’s just the writer, eating his omelet, putting her child to bed.”

Perrotta goes on to say:

"And the thing is, they’re all terrific books — fresh, unpredictable, intellectually stimulating and often quite funny (especially Offill’s and Lerner’s). It’s enough to make even the most committed advocate of conventional fiction wonder if Shields and company are on to something: Maybe the realistic novel has outlived its usefulness. (God knows we’ve all read some boring ones.) Maybe it’s time to wean ourselves off plot and character and scenes and conflict and all the rest, just leave those things to television. Maybe the most we can hope for on the page is a pinpoint focus on the writer in front of us, the adventures of a single consciousness at play.

I have just started to dabble in an attempt to write little fictional pieces. After reading Perrotta’s article, I thought how silly am I  to think I could possibly write fiction.  Especially, since I have had zero formal training.  I know nothing about conflict, plot or character scenes.  I simply enjoy inventing, imagining, and telling stories.  I haven’t figured out how to liken a sunset, a running brook or a dark and stormy night to something other than a sunset, running brook or dark and stormy night.
I have no grand illusions, or for that matter, a desire to publish anywhere except my blog. 

Ross encourages me to continue with my stories.  I have had a few positive comments on my blog.  Of course, I wonder if they are like the families and friends of less than talented America Idol contestants who tell their loved ones’ “You can sing, you can really sing!”

I am fascinated by writers. Writers who simply have to write because it is their passion.  I admire and am in awe of their talent and abilities.   Because I am a reader, always have been, I say, please keep writing.

And then when I am in the shower or lying in bed unable to sleep, my imagination takes over and I find myself in the midst of a story wondering, “what will happen next?” as if someone else has been telling me a story.

I guess that’s why I write, “to find out what happens next”.

By the way Mr. Perrotta gives “A God in Ruins” a good review.

"But then you read a novel like Kate Atkinson’s “A God in Ruins,” a sprawling, unapologetically ambitious saga that tells the story of postwar Britain through the microcosm of a single family, and you remember what a big, old-school novel can do. Atkinson’s book covers almost a century, tracks four generations, and is almost inexhaustibly rich in scenes and characters and incidents. It deploys the whole realist bag of tricks, and none of it feels fake or embarrassing. In fact, it’s a masterly and frequently exhilarating performance by a novelist who seems utterly undaunted by the imposing challenges she’s set for herself.

How do you feel about fiction writing?   Do you agree with Karl Ove Knausgaard that “Fictional writing has no value”?

By the way, I’m pretty sure I know how you will answer. :)


  1. I read mostly fiction, so I must disagree!

  2. I too read mostly fiction, so I will disagree too with that statement. I do like reading what you write. I think as long as you feel comfortable writing and it is enjoyable, go for it. You might never sell anything you write, but it is probably a good artistic outlet so to speak for your talents :) Enjoy it!


  3. If fiction is dead, why is Costco carrying books? They wouldn't carry them if people weren't buying them. I love a good story. Keep writing.

  4. Sounds like some authors are having a long, dark tea time of the soul. Or a midlife crisis.

    You know that time. When things become meaningless. If you repeat a word over and over and over again it loses its meaning, and somehow seems silly. Why does this combo of letters mean this? Writers who have been writing for a while start to wonder at it all. And perhaps they're feeling constrained by the "rules" of novels.

    But too many of us still enjoy reading. Traditional stories. And we will continue to do so. It's like the modernist painters. They got bored with representational painting and broke out into different structures. But most lay-people prefer to look at pictures of something. (And, of course, photography came into play.) Truth be told, all these avant-garde type of "stories" just bore me to tears usually.

    As for whether or not you can write--you can. I think it's more important to actually be writing. Skill comes in time, if you put in the effort and try to get better. If you have the desire to tell a story, that's all that you need. And not to compare you to American Idol also-rans, but even they can get better if they put in the time and effort into honing their craft. (Many think they can just get on stage and sing perfectly without any practice.)

    But you're better than they are. Truly. If you're really unsure, try to find a writing group. They'll tell you pretty quick if what you're doing is good. (It is. But you don't have to believe me.)

    1. Perhaps writers who have finished several works and have had best sellers find it more difficult to maintain a level or standard that they have achieved with their first successes.
      I find it interesting that books which are reviewed in the NY times are usually not the books that are on their best selling lists.
      That follows your point about what most readers are drawn to.
      I want to thank you for your encouraging words about my stories. Your advice about continuing to write is good advice. I have found that that the more I write makes me want to write more.

  5. I read a book of fiction last night - once I'd picked it up I couldn't put it down so I just read and read. It was the author's first book and had got rave reviews. Yes, it was different in the way it was written to a lot of books I have read but it still told a story that took hold, that needed a resolution, that made you think, that made you care ad surely that's what good fiction does - it connects you and entertains you and makes you think and makes your life bigger and brighter and better for having read it. I liked the stories that you wrote during the A - Z because they spoke to me and they engaged me and I like the one you are writing now. It surely doesn't matter that you are new to this - you are writing and people such as myself are reading it and liking it - so you must therefore be a writer and I for one hope you will continue to do so :) Special Teaching at Pempi’s Palace

    1. Gee, I’d love to know what book you were reading last night. I like the way you expressed how reading good fiction makes you feel. “…makes your life bigger and brighter” I agree. I find there is nothing better sometimes than immersing myself in a book.
      Thank you for your interest in my stories. Makes me want to keep going. :)

  6. I read one or two books a week, usually fiction. There are a LOT of bad books out there....formula-driven for the masses. But then you hit upon something REALLY good, and it's so well-written and full of life that it sticks with you for years (sometimes, decades). That's why I keep reading!

    On a side note, Tom Perrotta has written a number of good novels himself!

    1. Wow, one or two books a week. I haven’t gotten into the formula driven books. But I do have some favorite authors that I will always read their latest.
      I have been touched by words and phrases which stimulate my imagination and evoke emotional responses.
      I will have to check out Perrotta’s books.

  7. I love a book that can sweep me into another world, and keep me enthralled. I've always enjoyed books that make me think long after I've put them down for the last time. Those are the true classics - I can't let their worlds go; they have been embedded in my mind. These books aren't necessarily literary fiction but I think fiction has a purpose - to teach us, to show us, that there is more to this world than what we dream of - and I would be saddened if everyone gave up fiction.

    1. I completely understand what you mean about a book which can “sweep me into another world”.
      There have been tellers of stories from the beginning and I believe there will continue to be storytellers forever. jAnd that’s a good thing!