Thursday, November 1, 2007

True Fiction Holds up Ideals Worth Pursuing

As I said in an earlier post regarding writing True Fiction, "Last, but surely not least, are these three related ideals; the author must be true to his or her conscience, purpose, and audience." When I began calling my work "true fiction," I was borrowing from John Gardner as well as Wallace Stegner. Gardner (On Moral Fiction)defines "true art" in which he includes fiction, as art that improves rather than debases the human situation. It "ought to be a force in bringing people together, breaking down barriers of prejudice and ignorance, and holding up ideals worth pursuing."

In an age when reading is becoming a lost art for many of our children, what little they do read ought to have value. There is plenty of what Gardner calls "escapist" fiction available to young readers. Escapist fiction, Gardner says, used to be conservative, but in 1977 when he wrote "On Moral Fiction", he noticed "…signs that things are changing. As cynicism, despair, greed, sadism and nihilism become increasingly chic, more and more meanness creeps into escapist fiction." I wonder what he would say about the video games, movies, and some of the books written especially for children today. Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying they are all bad, neither am I saying that children should not be allowed to view certain videos or read certain books. Kids must be given credit for their wisdom in sorting out what is of value and what is not. Yet I feel very responsible as I write for kids to give them something worth their time; something that will "hold up ideals worth pursuing."

Gardner took a lot of flack for this book I am citing, for he wasn't above naming contemporaries whose writing he judged to lack morality. He was accused of being "sanctimonious and pedantic." However, I think some, in their furor, may have missed his point. He wasn't promoting religion, didacticism, or even spirituality. He said emphatically, "Didacticism and true art are immiscible." As Wikipedia states his case, "Gardner meant 'moral' not in the sense of narrow religious or cultural 'morality,' but rather that fiction should aspire to discover those human values that are universally sustaining."

Ever keeping in mind my audience—children who are alert, curious, and impressionable—I write with empathy and compassion for what they think, feel, and have to deal with in their everyday lives. I write exciting stuff that will encourage them to keep reading and will also build their confidence in themselves and understanding and tolerance for others. I write what I hope will stimulate their thinking about their situations, their world, and their aspirations. From birth onward, each of us is seeking an answer to the questions "Who am I? and Why am I here?" Everything we read, view, and experience is data to be processed and integrated or discarded in our search for the answer to those two questions.

My goal when I write fiction is to influence by example, never preaching, but contributing positively to this life-long journey.

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