1. newport95
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    newport95 New Member

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    A Question About Fiction...

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by newport95, May 25, 2012.

    Why is fiction useful?

    I love fiction. From the adventures to the way it makes you think, and everything in between. I have loved it for as long as I can remember, and I didn't have any conflictions about it until I was told years ago in middle school that every story has to have a theme. I had always know about theme, but for some reason, that day I struggled with what was once a simple idea to me. I asked myself,"Why can't an author just write a good and gripping story? Why does it need a theme?" I now have a better understanding, but I still struggle greatly with understanding the balance and use of theme as I try to start my first large piece of fiction. Part of me sees theme in its simple definition: the meaning of a story. Another part of me over analyzes it. Ever since that day I was told about theme, it was like a door that I knew was there all was suddenly opened, and now can't be shut.

    The point of me explaining my problems with theme is to give background to another problem I am having with fiction. Why is it useful? Similarly to theme, I always accepted it for the simple definition, but now that I have thought about it, I can't wrap my mind around what was formerly for me a simple concept.

    If I tell a fictional story for example, who is to say that the point I am trying to make is valid? Since fiction is a "fake" story, how does it prove any point the author is trying to make? Two authors can use the exact same situation, say a criminal holding a cop at gun point, and manipulate the story to prove their point. One may try to prove humans are kind and compassionate and can have changes of heart, therefor, the criminal turns good in their story and lets the cop live. The other author, however, may be trying to prove that humans are evil and opportunistic by nature and will tell the story of the criminal killing the cop in cold blood. So what does fiction do at all? It doesn't seem to me to prove anything.

    I believe, actually, that fiction causes many of today's great misconceptions. Movies, novels, or even crime TV shows for example are all pieces of fiction the the general population enjoys. The ideas presented in them are also very influential on the population, but they may be inaccurate, therefor creating harmful misconception, which is dealt by people by creating more fiction to refute that, which creates a very confusing environment. (Not always, but frequently occurs).

    Again, however, I wish to say I love fiction. I in no way think that it should be removed from society. I am just looking for some fresh opinions and explanations on the subject to help clear my head and help me view the concept in a less confusing manner. I welcome all opinions and thank you very much for reading this relatively long post. It was actually quite hard for me to put these thoughts into words (great author I am right?). Regardless, thanks again, and I look forward to hearing your responses!
     
  2. louis1
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    louis1 Contributing Member

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    Why can't an author just write a good and gripping story? Why does it need a theme?"
    - let the phds worry about the meaning of your story.
    Why is it useful?
    it's just a direction to follow. harry potter is about growing up. that's it. that's the theme. Rowling didn't think about this for ages. it's just it. it's not really useful when it comes to writing.
    what does fiction do at all? It doesn't seem to me to prove anything.
    people don't read fiction to have morals, the want to enjoy it, you should not try to teach stuff to your readers, they already have there own opinions. if there's a criminal put to death in your book. don't explain that it's good or bad. your characters might think its good or not but the reader will or will not agree, and they wont change their minds because of your book. and if you try to convince them otherwise, guess what, they'll just stop reading.

    I think you're over analyzing this. seriously. it's just stories. the moment you take yourself seriously is the moment people need to start to laugh at you
     
  3. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    Technically speaking, a story doesn't "need" a theme. It has one regardless of whether or not you decide to put one in. A story is an intimate telling of something in a writer's soul. Now, sometimes the message of a person's soul is "don't steal" or some other classic theme, but themes can also be as simple as "parental conflict".

    Basically what I'm saying is, a theme is a message. It doesn't have to be an obvious message, but it's a message all the same. Every story has a message of some sort, even if the message isn't entirely understandible to even the author.

    Try it. Write anything. There'll be a theme in it somewhere. Unless you're writing a theme-driven story, there's no need to worry about it.
     
  4. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I think it's because of the way we teach kids how to 'play.' Most toys are now characters from TV or movies or video games. Each character already has it's own history and story. The kids just re-play the scenario over and over.

    Imagination gets stilted, that's why there are so many variations of existing pop culture stories. When elves are popular, everyone uses elves.

    I've seen numerous stories and plots here which are pre-dated by TV shows I saw as a child. In a very real sense the modern authors do not see the issue as 'plagiarism,' but rather as a 'template' that must be used if a story is to be told at all.

    They cannot be creative because they have never practiced it.

    If I gave these guys a writing assignment which required them to write about a "strong, young female lead," more than one of them would paint her as an archer. That's the current template, that's the current theme.
     
  5. kamikazepilot42
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    kamikazepilot42 Member

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    Other people have already talked about theme, so I'll respond to the other things you touched on.

    To start with your last comment...I'm not sure it's fiction's responsibility to make sure that society is educated or intelligent enough to differentiate between what's real and what's not. I believe that's a failing that comes from other sources, not from the fiction itself. There are plenty of people who read books, watch television, enjoy films, and completely understand that while what they are reading/watching may closely resemble reality, it does not always mirror it completely. Most people that take a form of entertainment as gospel are working out of at least partial ignorance (even if that ignorance is not on purpose).

    As far as the first part, about what fiction is proving...
    All a story needs to "prove" is what the author intends it to prove. Some fiction is open-ended and allows the reader to make judgements based on his/her interpretation of the story. Other fiction may have more of an agenda (this type usually has a much narrower audience).
    There is no right or wrong way to do it.

    I believe that fiction is a way to investigate ourselves as human beings. Sure, the actual incidents that occur in a given story may not be real (sometimes they may not even be realistic), but if you get back to "theme" there is always something "real" in there. As was already said, all stories have a theme, whether you set out to intentionally make that theme known or not. THAT is what is being investigated within fiction, whether it's as simple as growing up, or relationships, or politics, or power struggles, or whatever. Even if the story is fake, the underlying motivations are real, otherwise readers would never relate and would simply stop reading.

    And so what if two authors can take the same situation and write it two completely different ways. Isn't that the point? That's why fiction has value...it can provide a way of looking at something that is outside our normal realm of thought. Just because you normally approach something in a certain manner doesn't mean you can't read and appreciate and/or learn from a different way of thinking about it. I don't think all I'd want to read were stories that were perfectly in line with the way I think about the world, even if those are the ones that I immediately related to the most. It's the ones that operate outside my normal box that are most affecting and life-altering, and that, I think, is the dream of many a fiction writer.
     
  6. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Well, it proves that both kinds of humans exist and there are writers who will use their creative minds to explore a subject in very different ways. As long as every individual has his/her own distinct personality there will be varied approach of writing and exploring a wide range of themes (intentionally or unintentionally on the part of the writer). This is not bad at all. Firstly, from a purely entertainment point of view (because reading is a form of entertainment), how will it be if all the themes involving human nature tell us that humans are kind and compassionate? It will surely stop entertaining me just like watching B-grade movies. Secondly, it is true that movies, books etc will influence minds, but DO NOT FORGET that readers are highly intelligent, often having very strong opinions on any given topic. They know what to absorb and what to discard which is only possible when they are given a wide range of choices. To hammer them with one kind of theme exploration is like propaganda warfare employed by many dictators and such with intentions to control minds by suppressing their intelligence and opinions, which is not good for the individuals, not healthy for the society at large, and, coming back to the topic, definitely not good for promoting creativity.

    I want wide varieties of themes being explored in many different ways, simply because as a writer and a reader I don't want to be a fish in a jar.
     
  7. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Sorry. Double posts.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    > I was told years ago in middle school that every story has to have a theme.

    I think that you were told incorrectly. Every story doesn't have to have a theme. Now, maybe a story has to have a theme in order to qualify for being taught as part of the middle school curriculum, but that's an entirely different thing.

    It would be difficult to write a story that doesn't communicate opinions and views about the world, whether the author intends to communicate those things or not. But that's not the same as every story, for every author, being designed so that the author can say, "The theme of my story is..."

    > I asked myself,"Why can't an author just write a good and gripping story? Why does it need a theme?"

    The author can, and it doesn't need a theme.

    > I now have a better understanding, but I still struggle greatly with understanding the balance and use of theme as I try to start my first large piece of fiction.

    I would suggest not even trying to choose a theme. Write your story. Create characters and situations that make you feel emotions. I'll bet that once your story is done, you'll be able to see the themes in it. At that point, you may choose to strengthen the structure of those themes - or you may not. But I recommend against _starting_ with a theme, because I think that that will short-circuit the natural themes that will come out in your writing.

    I wrote a few very short stories recently, not worrying about theme or plot or anything else, just letting each paragraph follow the next paragraph, and then doing some tidying and restructuring when the first draft was done. When I looked at them a few days later, I realized that there were all sorts of odd scraps of meaning in them that I certainly never pre-planned and probably never would have come up with if I had pre-planned them.

    For example, I seem to be thinking about the idea of relationships. Two of the stories had characters that were natural predators, choosing to actively seek out friendship with their prey rather than eating the prey. Two have a sort of reverse of that plot - pairs of characters that would seem to be logical friends/allies (mother and child, child and imaginary friend) where one of the characters wants the friendship and the other one either rejects it or actually does harm. Only one of those four stories is very clearly "about" a relationship, so I didn't see that there was a common thread through all four until recently.

    What the bleep is that about? I don't know, but I'm pleased to have had that look inside my mind, and if I'd planned ahead I probably wouldn't have it. And that's just one example; those four very short stories probably have a dozen other "themes" that I didn't see coming out of my head until they were on the page.

    There's stuff in your head, great stuff, and if you focus entirely on plot and characters and just let the other stuff fall out however it does, I'll bet that your themes will be far, far more interesting than if you went out hunting themes with a butterfly net.

    > Why is it useful?

    Because it's fun. Just as fiction doesn't need a theme, it doesn't need a use. It's entertainment. It can also be many other things, but most people read fiction for entertainment, so if it fails to do that job, then it will be unable to do any other job, because no one will read it.

    > If I tell a fictional story for example, who is to say that the point I am trying to make is valid? Since fiction is a "fake" story, how does it prove any point the author is trying to make?

    Who is to say that you even need to try to make a point? A theme doesn't need to be "X is bad and you should do Y!" It could instead simply be an exploration of what happens when people do X and Y. It doesn't need to include a moral or lesson or debating point.

    But even if you are trying to make a point, there's no one who decides if the point is valid. Fiction is self-expression; it's expressing what the author feels. And even if the story weren't fake, it wouldn't be proof of anything - true stories that might be seen to make a point are still just anecdotes, and anecdotal evidence isn't proof of anything.

    > So what does fiction do at all? It doesn't seem to me to prove anything.

    Fiction is, again, mainly entertainment. When it does something other than entertain, it may make you think.

    Example: Maybe you've always held Opinion X because your decisions about the issues around X were based on your town and your family and your upbringing, all things that you have a stake in, things that might change a little if you change your opinion. Maybe the author presented a setting substantially different from your life, but a setting where Opinion X is relevant. Maybe that difference meant that you were able to release your automatic preconceptions and take a fresh look at Opinion X. It made you think. And now you can look at Opinion X in your own life, with fresh eyes. The author still isn't telling you what to do; instead, he is giving you better tools to make that decision for yourself.

    But I still hope that he started out to just tell a really good story.

    > I believe, actually, that fiction causes many of today's great misconceptions.

    Who's to say that they're misconceptions? We don't have a single universal Arbiter Of Truth. People express themselves. Other people take in that expression and decide what, if anything, to do about it.

    > which creates a very confusing environment.

    A confusing world of ideas is a very, very good thing. The availability of a messy, swirling storm of ideas offers the best hope that some of us may get close to the truth some of the time.

    ChickenFreak
     
  9. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why is fiction useful? For many reasons. One of the things I like the most is to explore possibilities and consequenses we can't or won't face in reality. Have you seen the movie Outbreak? Scientists all over the world are working on creating new viruses and bacteria for all sorts of purposes. Some do it to cure diseases, while others do it to help with chemical warfare. Others again do it to prevent chemical warfare. But what would happen if a virus was released in public? That's not something you want in reality, but the movie Outbreak deals with just that. That's why I love the movie. It's really scary as 'just a movie', but it's even scarier when you consider that the exact thing that happens there could very easily happen for real.

    And think about Star Trek, for instance. It's 'just' sci-fi, and most of the stuff they do there isn't possible in reality. We can't travel faster than light, teleport and so on. However, a lot of scientists are using Star Trek as inspiration to develop new technology. The same goes for a lot of other sci-fi stories. Jules Verne wrote a story with escalators, elevators and all sorts of weird inventions, but most of them are reality today. Ever read the story 1984? It was sci-fi when it was released, but society today is heading more and more into the 1984-scenario.

    The point is that quite often, sci-fi and reality tend to blur after a while. Writing and reading sci-fi stories can help us understand our own reality, and especially the possibilities and consequenses of our technology.

    But even fantasy has it's own base in reality quite frequently. I'm a big fan of Dragonlance, and at first it looks like just a random fantasy-setting with humans, dwarves, elves and so on. But if you look closer, it reflects reality far more than I want to admit. There's a lot of racism in the stories (no one takes kender or gnomes seriously even though they too can be heroes, because "they are just kender/gomes"), and there's quite a bit of sexism at times. (men go on a dangerous quest, women stay at home.) There's far more than this in the books, but you get the point. They often reflect real life situation like that. I bet you can take any real life situation and place it in a fantasy-setting with ease. It might not be fun to read, but it will be far more than "just a story". Unless you want it to be.
     
  10. newport95
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    newport95 New Member

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    I want to thanks everyone who responded. The wealth of information provided from these few posts is amazing. :D

    Upon reading this, I realized that the way I have been reading at school, and have been taught, may be part of my confusion. Since about the time of the "theme" epiphany mentioned in the OP, my free time, and therefor, my amount of recreational reading have both decreased.

    Because of this, I think that I have only been reading books like Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World for school, which I enjoy, but appear to me to have more outright themes. and have also been reading them in search of their themes. Without realizing the parallel, I just assumed all books had explicit themes and that the authors had set out to prove certain points by using their stories merely as vessels for their themes. By hunting down themes in "intellectual" literature like Shakespeare, as opposed to the comparative reading "junk" that I used to read in my free time, I suppose that I assumed that all good writers used explicit themes or messages they wished to share and were just very good at interweaving it with their stories so that you didn't realize you were being preached to and would enjoy the story.

    So in the end, I suppose that my reading changed, not my understanding of writing. Again, I would like to thank all of you for your input. Also, if anyone else has advice as to writing with (or I suppose now, without thinking about) theme, I am still open to any and all input. Also if there is anyone who holds a different opinion, I would love to hear that as well. Thanks again!
     
  11. Owithrow
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    Owithrow New Member

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    Fiction is entertainment unless the author specificly writes the message. If the later, the author will write with as much proving points as possible so someone cant just reverse the theme.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Go back to the junk. :) Not exclusively, no, but I'd say don't hesitate to have a good junky novel, or five or ten of them, sitting around for those times when you just want some fun reading. The more you read, whether literary classics or complete junk, the better writer you will be. A writer who can produce a great potboiler that you can't put down is a writer who knows a whole lot about his craft.

    Even Shakespeare had junk - good junk, delightful junk, but junk. For example, those clownish characters that appear in every play may sometimes have conveyed part of the play's message, but they were also there in part to get a good laugh at a pun or a dirty joke. The fights may have been part of the dramatic tension, but they were also there to please an audience that enjoyed some flash and violence.

    Junk is good. Start reading it again.
     
  13. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I think fiction is useful in that it explores the possibilities of humanity. To me, there is nothing more reflective of what it means to be human than for us to critically examine ourselves and our relationship with the world.
     
  14. naturemage
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    naturemage Active Member

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    I don't think a story needs a theme. Look at all the works that famous, long gone authors came up with. College and high school kids go around everyday analyzing the stories because their professors told them there's a definite lesson in that story. And yeah, there probably is. But it doesn't have to be the RIGHT lesson. Everyone can learn something from a story. It's how they read it, their past experiences, etc. that give a person a lesson.

    And, I'm sure there are a great deal of authors who just don't give a ____ about teaching people something. I don't. I want to write something fantastic and have people read it. You learned something from my story. Great! I didn't put it there, not on purpose.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as noted above, fiction does not have to be 'useful'... it's raison d'etre is to entertain... while it's doing that, it can also:

    enlighten some readers
    presage the future
    make its authors wealthy
    play a part in bringing about societal changes
    expose humankind's baser behaviors
    get its authors killed for enraging this or that extremist element
     
  16. Program
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    I was once in a discussion over a fictional book, and the same question came up! "Why would you read about something that never happened?" I'd say most people read fiction to be entertained, and many people write fiction to gain fame and wealth. But due to fact that we were reading that one book, our discussion yielded a different result - almost like a different side of fiction. The author of that book had constantly been nudging at the "truths" in fiction. For example, in a well-written story, you may experience the emotion of a character so vividly, it's actually "real," and that's another reason why people my read or write fiction. Personally, I like fiction for the subtleties authors put in their books. The book is like a scavenger hunt and finding each subtlety is like finding an object in the scavanger hunt.
     

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