Sunday, September 10, 2006

well-written stories

It is one of my goals - actually a personal agenda point - to encourage the creation of well-written stories in the speculative fiction mode. There are some who opine that genre stories should not be constrained by a need to be "literary", which I completely disagree with.

It is one thing to have an idea and another thing to be able to communicate that idea; it is the basic difference between "story" and "discourse". "Story" - the "what" of the text- consists of the events and existents. "Discourse" - "how" a text is told - consists of multiple elements such as structure (change of fortune, the problem of the story, rising action, crisis, climax, falling action, the threat), narrative modes, narrative voices, representation of consciousness (direct and indirect discourse/dialogue, psychonarration, interior monologue, narrated monologue), focalization, time (real time, quick time, slow time, prolepsis, analepsis), space (fictional space, symbolic space, real space), style, characterization (explicit and implicit, characterization by narrator or character, reliability, inner life, contrasts and correspondences), etc.

A well-written text is composed of both "story" and "discourse". I respect every person's right to choose what they want to read, but I personally prefer to read a well-written text. Having an idea is not enough - which is why I'm hard on fiction that primarily trumpets ideas, without paying much attention to things like characterization and emotional verisimilitude. For me, a text that is not well-written, that does not engage me as a reader on several levels, fails.

Speculative fiction is literature, and should not be excused from the demands of literature. It is not a matter of elitism but rather about communicating a whole story - not just the idea. If the idea is all that needs to communicated, then perhaps the story form is not ideal. There are other means such as essays, articles or various kinds of papers (such as source books for world-building). However, one of the intrinsic aspects of speculative fiction is the "what if?", and building a "what if" requires a scenario, and if that scenario includes characters with motivations interacting with others or moving around in a setting in time, then it needs to be communicated as a story, complete with the elements of discourse. From there, it is a short hop towards considering theme, meaning, and agenda.

I do not differentiate between "high" and "low" fiction (literature for the "elite" vs. pop). I read both Kelly Link and the stuff I find in the bargain bin, I've enjoyed Maus and Little Lulu. What I look for is a well-written story. It can entertain or it can provoke; it can be humorous and light or it can be so mind-boggling and dense that it requires several readings; it can be about anything and written in practically any style (traditional, pulpy or experimental); it can be about the human condition (emotionally resonant) or it can be about ideas (intellectually stimulating) - for as long as it is well-written.

As a reader and editor, those are the texts I look for, the stories that engage me. As a writer, those are the kinds of stories I aspire to write.


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