Notes towards a revival
One downside of the competitive market we're in is that writers are always looking for new tricks to hold readers' attention, which means we end up weaponizing things like fanciful fiction because it sells. Art evolves just like science and technology: usually faster than the ethics can evolve to tell us whether we're heading in the right direction. In some ways, the struggle to write good, healthy fiction is the same as the struggle to not build an AI that destroys the world.
Part of me wonders if people won't accept serious fiction until their lives become more serious. The Lord of the Rings films (which are some of the most serious that exist in the fantasy genre) became popular partly because Fellowship released just a few months after 9/11. People needed something that mirrored their depth of fear and emotion. Whereas fanciful fiction tends to have very little to say about death and loss and the hard questions of life. What we seem to get when fanciful fiction attempts to take on serious subject matter is a gruesome pantomime, a la Game of Thrones, with plenty of shock value but very few answers.
I wish we could educate and inspire people into wanting serious fiction, but I'm not sure if we can. My current approach is to meet them halfway: write a book that has some of both, and hope that over time they grow attached to the stories I write and decide to follow even if I start delving into something more serious than they would've normally grabbed from the bookshelf. In other words, we have to be tricksy. That's part of the evolution of art.
"Fiction that finds the truth of the human condition in stories of action, adventure, romance, and even magic and expresses them in a popular style using accessible prose."
I have been looking for this everywhere, and thus far have only found it in hundred-year-old books!!!! Where are the modern novels that use the fiction form to speak to a greater human truth? If they do exist, they are all decidedly dystopian 🥺
My headphones must have dropped out when you mentioned Joyce, Mark. I’ll just assume you lauded his greatness and recommended all your readers to reflect upon the utter brilliance of his serious short story, The Dead. 😉
well said. i find i gravitate toward this kind of fiction the most. so much so, that i wrote some myself! i'd like to think that my historical novel (serialized here) qualifies as serious popular fiction. written in an accessible style, it has some action, adventure, and romance, yet tackles some dark themes and challenging questions about choice, accountability, and sacrifice. i can't promise it finds the truth of the human condition, but it makes an honest effort...
That’s fair enough. Each to their own. Though ‘popularity’ is rather tricksy. I think Joyce is a brilliant storyteller but he foregrounds language as a parallel journey in itself. The whole art’s there but is deliberately subverted. Agree this is not a popularity play. Then again, he wrote to change the popular vision of what a novel can be, and hoped for an appreciative and sizeable enough readership to live as a writer. I suspect we’re all somewhere on this hamster wheel.
I couldn't agree more.
Looking forward to this talk at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference