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Why it is Important to Write Fiction

Updated on August 15, 2018
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Daniel Keyes was an American author, who rose to prominence in the 1960s, with the award-winning story Flowers for Algernon.

It is great, and also terrible, to write fiction

There is a lot of merit in arguing that writers of fiction find themselves in both the best and the worst of positions: due to their chosen type of literary output they indeed are without limits in what may be expressed; for imagination itself is boundless. At the same time, there exists no official credential to indicate who is suitable to produce this type of work; and this often tends to cast a shadow on the profession of writer of fiction...

In a way, a writer of fiction can come across as a self-styled philosopher, obscure artist or aspiring private pedagogue… And yet one should never be discouraged by reactionary attitudes to this kind of art, because it has been commonplace in all eras to be suspicious of new writers, and also to speak negatively of the supposedly unprecedented high number of authors.

Fernando Pessoa once claimed that the same people who speak lowly of those critics that failed to identify great writers of the past, go on to fail themselves in noticing the great writers of their day.
Fernando Pessoa once claimed that the same people who speak lowly of those critics that failed to identify great writers of the past, go on to fail themselves in noticing the great writers of their day.

There is a lot of merit in arguing that writers of fiction find themselves in both the best and the worst of positions: due to their chosen type of literary output they indeed are without limits in what may be expressed; for imagination itself is boundless. At the same time, there exists no official credential to indicate who is suitable to produce this type of work.

Wanting to write isn’t a modern phenomenon

Indeed, one should not make the mistake of believing that it is a new phenomenon to see so many writers around; it was already noted in 19th century Britain and France, and in fact it was already argued to be an issue even in Ancient Greece! And not just according to Aristophanes, for whom, after all, Socrates really was a superfluous character… At least Socrates himself never tried to write – although Plato and Xenophon left accounts of his work for millions of future of readers to enjoy.

In other words, the number of people who wish to produce their own stories was never low to begin with, nor would it be correct to claim that a particularly modern type of vanity – or some other negative reason – is behind the appearance of so many creators of works of fiction in our own time.

One should not make the mistake of believing that it is a new phenomenon to see so many writers around; it was already noted in 19th century Britain and France, and in fact it was already argued to be an issue even in Ancient Greece.

On a definition given by Pessoa

People do feel the need to express themselves; and writing is one of the most direct ways to do so. That said, can it be expected that virtually every person will have a notable story to present? I think that this question does not have a straight answer, because one has to take into account whether or not the writer will manage to become familiar enough with their own self: Knowing oneself, at least to the degree that you know what you have inside, and how to present it in words, can be said to be crucial for all those that write… There exists a famous quote by the Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa, in which he sums up in a sentence a definition of good, mediocre, and bad writing:

“The good poet writes what he feels, the mediocre poet writes what he thinks he is feeling, and the bad poet writes what he thinks that he should be feeling”.

This quote presents the view that the only thing actually needed so as to write well is to accurately express how you feel; if you merely confuse the reality of your emotions with your views about them (what you think you are feeling) then you belittle the value of your work, and the worst thing you can possibly do (according to Pessoa) is to try to emulate some other writer or be overly conscious of what a reader may think of you, because you believe that what the other writer expressed was what passes for important work, or that the reader whose views you have in mind will actually serve as a helpful guide …

Franz Kafka. While he is now regarded as one of the most important authors of all time, his work remained virtually unknown at the time of his death.
Franz Kafka. While he is now regarded as one of the most important authors of all time, his work remained virtually unknown at the time of his death.

Can it be expected that virtually every person will have a notable story to present? I think that this question does not have a straight answer, because one has to take into account whether or not the writer will manage to become familiar enough with their own self: Knowing oneself, at least to the degree that you know what you have inside, and how to present it in words, can be said to be crucial for all those that write.

What may be achieved from writing fiction?

But what does it mean to “write what you feel”? To present your own emotions, correctly, and without blurring their truth with false notes? Would such a writing be similar to the flow of a dream? One can recall another quote, this time by H.L. Borges, according to whom “Writing is only a guided dream”. And, reflecting on this, one can also mention that Sigmund Freud had once argued that if you alter your dream, as you write it down, you have then unwittingly become an author!

I think that, indeed, owning to the vast complexity of the human mind, if a person manages – due to talent, luck, persistent work, or any combination of those – to bring to the surface some elements from the depth of the internal mines of treasures we all carry around with us – and of which we all remain mostly unaware of – then this person has already become a very needed artist, and deserves eternal praise. With that in mind, writing fiction is not a competition, but a communal, a pananthropic attempt to bring new and wonderful ideas and images to the attention of others. Hopefully we stand to see many more such ideas, and many more remarkable stories!

Daniel Keyes arguably only produced one famous story; Flowers for Algernon. And yet with this one story he has justifiably earned the praise of readers all around the world.
Daniel Keyes arguably only produced one famous story; Flowers for Algernon. And yet with this one story he has justifiably earned the praise of readers all around the world.

© 2018 Kyriakos Chalkopoulos

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