Monday, March 2, 2009

Compelling Fiction Comes from the Heart, not the Head

Are you intimate with the characters in the novel you are reading? Do their problems become yours as you are reading? Are their emotions, happy, sad, frightened, or angry, real to you? Felt by you? Then you are reading a book written by an author who tells his or her story from the heart, not from the head. The author became one with the characters, felt the emotion, and suffered or rejoiced with the characters as the story progressed. 

Regardless of who we are and what we write, we are bound to put some of ourselves into our writing. Each experience is unique and our passions and our idiosyncrasies help to flavor our work. Writers, don’t be afraid to give your characters some of your own passions, phobias, and emotional upheavals. It will give your writing passion as well as encouragement to those readers who carry the same troubling baggage you do.

The purpose of "true fiction" is to express and show emotion with which readers can relate, to allow the reader to experience the emotion vicariously. It should also have the potential for positive influence. Literature influences people. It is up to the "true fiction" writer to use that power for the reader’s good. There is nothing wrong with fiction that is written solely to entertain. But the purpose of "true fiction" is to touch the readers’ emotions; to help them feel what they may be afraid to feel in real life.

 “People recognize that it feels good to feel and that not to feel is unhealthy.… Literature offers feelings for which we don’t have to pay.” (Janet BurrowayWriting Fiction, A guide to Narrative Craft

“Don’t be afraid to ask of your writing, ‘Who will this art help? What baby is it squashing?.…Ideals expressed in art can effect behavior in the world, at least in some people some of the time.… I have said that wherever possible, moral art holds up models of decent behavior; for example, characters in fiction, drama, and film whose basic goodness and struggle against confusion, error, and evil—in themselves and in others—give firm intellectual and emotional support to our own struggle.” (John Gardner, On Moral Fiction )

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