1. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    What is Fiction? What should it Be?

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Andrae Smith, Sep 9, 2013.

    I asked, a few days ago, about "Kew Gardens" by Virginia Woolf, and what makes it such a successful piece of fiction being so contrary to conventional writing (disregarding the standards for language changing with time). But the question still bugs me, what makes good fiction. Below are a couple of quotes by famous authors about what fiction is. Following are excerpts from various interviews with Vladimir Nabokov.

    What I want to know is what your take is on their views. Do you agree? What do you think fiction is? What should good fiction be? Should a work be judged be its impact or the skill with which it's been crafted? Must it crafted according to formula and method?

    Sorry it is a lot to read, but you don't have to read all of it to get the ideas?
    **************************

    Fiction is...

    ---"a make-believe story, written in prose." - Littre

    ---"some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language." - Jane Austen

    ---"'The proper stuff of fiction' does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss. And if we can imagine the art of fiction come alive and standing in our midst, she would undoubtedly bid us break her and bully her, as well as honour and love her, for so her youth is renewed and her sovereignty assured." - Virginia Woolf

    Nabokov on Fiction
    ----------
    Interviewer: Why did you write Lolita?

    Nabokov: It was an interesting thing to do. Why did I write all my books, after all? For the sake of the pleasure, for the sake of the difficulty. I have no social purpose, no moral message; I’ve no general ideas to exploit, I just like composing riddles with elegant solutions (Strong Opinions 16).
    ----------
    Interviewer: In terms of modern art, critical opinion is divided about the sincerity or deceitfulness, simplicity or complexity, of contemporary abstract painting. What is your own opinion?

    Nabokov: Only talent interests me in paintings and books. Not general ideas, but the individual contribution.

    Interviewer: A contribution to society?

    Nabokov: A work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual and only the individual reader is important to me. I don’t give a damn for the group, the community, the masses, and so forth. Although I do not care for the slogan “art for art’s sake”—because unfortunately such promoters of it as, for instance, Oscar Wilde and various dainty poets, were in reality rank moralists and didacticists—there can be no question that what makes a work of fiction safe from larvae and rust is not its social importance but its art, only its art (Strong Opinions 33).
    ----------
    Interviewer: Why do you say you dislike “serious” writers? Don’t you just mean “bad” artists?

    Nabokov: Let me put it this way. By inclination and intent I avoid squandering my art on the illustrated catalogues of solemn notions and serious opinions; and I dislike their pervasive presence in the works of others. What ideas can be traced in my novels belong to my creatures therein and may be deliberately flawed (Strong Opinions 147).
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Beyond the formal definition of fiction (literature that describes imaginary people and events), the concept of fiction is highly personal, as shown by the many definitions in your post. As far as what good fiction is, that's even more subjective. For me, it's all about the execution of an idea. The message and the author's purpose are essentially meaningless when judging the quality of art. Also, any piece of art produced by some sort of formula or method is not going to have any sort of lasting impact because there's nothing that separates its execution from the execution of any other piece that has been produced by the same formula/method.

    That's just the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more that can be said about this topic. Unfortunately, I have homework to do, so I'm going to have to keep this short.
     
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  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In my more cynical moments, I sometimes think "fiction" is just a polite word for "bullshit."

    Beyond that, I don't really know what fiction is. It's a description of a sequence of events, but so is a list of instructions on how to change a tire. The medium isn't important - fiction may take the form of prose, narrative poetry, stage play, film, opera, popular song, television program, radio drama, comic strip, mime performance, comedy sketch, joke, or almost anything else. Characters aren't strictly necessary; a narrative of a planet forming or a bridge collapsing may be fiction. The events described may never have happened, or maybe they did - artists have created "fictionalized" versions of many historically true events.

    The paragraph above doesn't fully define fiction. There's more to it, but I haven't figured it all out yet. Probably I never will.
     
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  4. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    @thirdwind I know what you mean about homework! I half the time my computer's open, but I'm just doing homework. But I think you're right to say that fiction is something that can only really be defined on a personal level; good fiction, even more-so. Aside from the literary definition, how can one define such a concept? Aside from certain technical skills and ability to acutely express one's message or ideas or images, how can we say what is good or bad?

    @minstrel I like your take on it, too. I can't really say what fiction is beyond a concept. For me, fiction is the art of creation and recreation. It is manifesting the intangible ideas and expressing them so that we can see them and experience them. It is the art of bringing ideas to life by means of story or narration. That can be broken down further and further. And there are still other ways to view fiction. For me, the most basic way to look at it is as a concept that can be vaguely understood only by the multiple perspectives.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Perhaps therein lies the reason for so many genres to have evolved over time. Genres themselves only being loose groupings of items that have some acknowledged similarities, but as one comes closer to the edges of the borders of these groups, one realizes there are no clean borders, only hazy zones of transition. Our need to express, speak and ask questions about the human condition spawning ever different modes of fiction.
     
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  6. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I think you're right about that. I didn't think of it at that level, but there aren't really clear borders between genres and ideas in fiction. One thing that I do always find in common between most fictional works is the exploration of the human condition and the idea of humanity in general. many of the other quotes on the sheet I pulled the above one from all noted that we tend to write about ourselves (humans) to understand ourselves differently. We try to experience ourselves differently in a way.
     
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  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    And explain ourselves. What writer of fiction doesn't in some way use her creation to explain that insular, untouchable, unknowable-to-others universe we each call the self? In the broad strokes we're all pretty similar, but in the details we're as different, one from another, as a puppy is from a pogo-stick. ;) I think we all have that secret question of do the others around me experience the act of being in the same way I do? Fiction is a way to explore that question.
     
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  8. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I don't think I've seen someone put it quite so beautifully. I guess if one were to make a list fiction is: question and answer, exploration and expression, creation and experience... Perhaps fiction is a lens through which we view imagination, those inner trenches of the mind.
     
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  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You guys are doing a fine job of discussing what fiction is at its highest and best. There are, however, forms of fiction that don't approach that. Hackwork is fiction, too. Blatant, shameless pornography is fiction. The most dull-witted comic strip in your daily newspaper is fiction. Ed Wood movies are fiction. "The Eye Of Argon" by Jim Theis (Google it if you have a strong stomach and a sense of humor) is fiction. If we want to develop a comprehensive definition of fiction, we have to include the worst as well as the best.
     
  10. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I think those might fall under expression, experience, or creation--even if only for entertainment's sake. :p
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think all of this:

    Still easily falls under what I was expressing here:

    I have a couple of erotic stories on the stove right now. Some people look down their noses at that kind of thing, but that is of no consequence to me because you are correct, this too is fiction (fiction that sells, btw :)) This too is a way of explaining the inner self, because there is a sexual creature in almost all of us and I think we all wonder if our desire is the same as desire for others, or to quote the prologue from The Libertine: Was that shudder the same shudder he sensed? Or did he know something more profound?
     
  12. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Usually I feel like fiction is entertainment. But sometimes it's also about learning, or evoking emotions, or about transgression, tearing down the norms and widening horizons. Fiction can also be an escape.
    Or some genres, like the Gothic fiction, can be an outburst to or an allegory of certain social and political changes.

    I don't know, it's many things, has many functions, and it's purpose or essence can change depending on who's reading or studying it.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I was talking about pornography, not erotica. I've written both, and I draw a distinction between the two. For me, pornography appeals only to the genitals. It's just about lust. Characters don't count; relationships between characters don't count. Erotica involves characters who have a valid existence, a valid purpose, different from and higher than the mere stimulation of the libido.

    Erotic stories are actual stories. Pornography can be simply a list of words and images that give me an erection. That's the difference, to me. But I'd still call pornography a form of fiction.
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't deny or contradict anything here. Everything you have said is correct, IMO, and still falls under the sentiment I was expressing. :) I was merely using my own experience as a writer as reference.
     
  15. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think fiction is truth wrapped in lies.
     
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  16. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I think you bring up another good point. Fiction is also about learning and feeling and pushing boundaries.

    I also like the poetic expression "truth wrapped in lies." Could you elaborate on that a bit @jazzabel .
     
  17. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Andrae Smith: I think deep down, every story a writer chooses to tell, in essence, has some personal significance. What interests us to begin with is deeply rooted in our psyche, either through a pleasurable past experience, or an unpleasant one, that needs resolving. Some writers are more aware of this then others, some hide themselves better than others, but whether we intentionally try to hide the connection, or it is subconsciously hidden under the layers of a metaphor (or two), every piece of fiction can be analysed for prevalent themes, types of characters, types of relationships. In that sense, at the core of even the most fanciful story is a personal truth. Be it an issue, a struggle, conflict, event, question etc.

    Whether the reader notices it or not depends on many things, some to do with the writer and some with the reader, who not uncommonly finds their own truth in a story, which may or may not be the same as the writer's. This is why I think writers should remain mysterious about the truths in their work, let readers speculate, or find their own. The biggest writer-reader conflicts occur when the writer reveals his/her truth, and it destroys the reader's.
     
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  18. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    @jazzabel Thanks for clearing that up. I had an idea in this realm, but I thought I'd be better off asking, lest I assume too much ha ha! But I really like this. This might fall back under expression or experience mentioned in a post up above, but in a slightly different way. And I totally agree, especially with this line:
     
  19. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This reminds me of the following post I made in another thread:
     
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