Saturday, 16 June 2012

Essay on Fiction

My occasional reviews of writers and their works tend to be masterpieces of brevity despite my love of fiction. I don’t particularly enjoy analysing fiction. I often wrote critical essays mechanically during my academic past-life. They were dry, functional assessments formulated with the purpose of attaining a certain level or grade of achievement. By definition, they were simply a means to an end.

From the point of view of the creative writer, the practise of analysing and dissecting fiction is almost akin to explaining how a magician performs a trick or illusion, to the minutest detail. It is fascinating for those who wish to attempt to write fiction; to open up the clockwork doll and explore its innermost workings. To the casual reader, there is the inherent danger that all sense of wonderment becomes lost in the aftermath of clinical dissection and proposed theory. The story is a displayed exhibit: the work of fiction might as well be a natural specimen such as a frog. Nature’s creation is now splayed across the dissector’s work-table, its innards picked apart by the critic’s scalpel.

For the audience, for the sake of pleasure, it’s not the how. It’s not necessarily the why. It’s the effect.

Plays and poems should be read aloud with passion and insight, not dissected in classrooms. Without the dramatic elucidation of an actor assuming character, without the rhythm and swooping cadence of poetry read aloud, to the untrained eye and deaf ear there are simply dead words on a page. The text becomes inscrutable, baffling and alienating. The hapless student is stricken mute without guidance by stifling authority. Ponderous and uncertain, they drown in the inevitability of their own boredom.

How best to engage these sleeping minds? Fiction is not a science, it is not a field of absolutes. There is no such thing as a definitive canon. Here are the scribblings of dead men; some lost, some forgotten, some celebrated. Past writers are ignored or exalted.

The author of prose fiction practises the art of illusion. In the beginning, there is always the blank canvas, the challenge of the empty and desolate white page. The creator works on the texture of prose, a web of words and an expedition of meaning. The structure rapidly expands in a collusion of proliferating sentences and interlocking of paragraphs. There is, frustratingly, often mere transitory inspiration. Slowly comes depiction of character, woven into the jigsaw of plot. The creative writer constructs the frame of the narrative skeleton. Words are flesh meat applied to bone.

Tender in places. Something to sink your teeth into.

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