Doesn’t the phrase “literary fiction” sound prejudiced? Say that word aloud. Let it bounce off your tongue on your lips. Is it fair to set apart a genre that is supposed to intrinsically tackle higher, nobler themes than all of the others genres.
On Wednesday, I described my issues with that idea. Now I want to bring the conversation to writers. Are you a writer? Pay special attention.
I submit that every fiction writer should seek to incorporate theme in their story.
“But wait!” you might say. “I just want to entertain people.”
“You’ll do that either way,” says I. “Make sure you do it right.”
If you have a moral vision for your characters, you will have a much more clear idea of what to do with them. It is the values of the characters that determine what they do, right? If there’s something about life that you want to prove, you have a much narrower field of options to choose from. Otherwise, you’re floundering among a sea of options, many of which are entertaining- so many, I suspect, that you’ll have more trouble choosing.
Let’s be clear, though. I am not advocating propaganda. You need to learn the difference between preaching and sincerely exploring a theme. You can’t just have the hero (or heroine) punch the villain in the face and say, “See there! Capitalism will always win the day.” You need to make things a little more complicated.
Read some philosophy, or political treatises. Try Plato’s The Republic, or Aristotle’s Ethics. Read The Federalist Papers. Think about what they say, and the consequences that might result from following them. Read up on your history, too. Pay attention to the ideas that run through history. You could look at the political struggles between conservatives and liberals in 1800s Europe. Could this have led to World War One? How?
Think on that level, and you might be surprised what happens to your imagination. I bet it will change your fiction for the better. Do you think books with noble themes should be boring? Think again! With theme comes focus. With focus comes urgency. A wizard trying to save the world becomes a lot more interesting to the reader when the wizard isn’t entirely convinced the world is worth saving, or if he does something ethically wrong in order to save it.
Try it. I dare you.