[SOC] Second Dose, the Purpose of Fiction

I have another day off from work, so this necessitates a second dose of freewriting. Doing this is sort of therapeutic for me because writers have to get it out there. The words build up in you, and they have to come out.

I spent yesterday and last night bugging the hell out of Molly over my creative struggles. You can read some of this from yesterday's SOC post. Writers can be a whiny bunch, but I have been able to sleep on it a bit. I usually have the answers when I awake. Here is what I have.

What is the purpose of fiction? That is a very important question because in our nihilistic times fiction and stories seem to have no purpose or meaning. This is why novels are so bad. Angst ridden writers try to answer the question but draw a blank.

My own answer as an atheist was that fiction was pure entertainment. We read stories or watch movies to forget our own miserable lives for a bit and to enjoy the misery of other lives even if those lives are fake. As such, as long as the story allowed you to escape for a bit, it had served its purpose. Whether or not the story was good was really person relative. The worth of fiction was purely in the mind of the reader.

I have rejected atheism, and this rejection brings with it a reconsideration of fiction. I believe fiction does have a purpose, and this purpose is a moral education. It is no coincidence that Holy Scripture takes the form of narrative. Stories allow us to forget ourselves momentarily, and this is important. It is in self-forgetting that we can consider and contemplate the divine. As pure entertainment, fiction serves the same end as it would as moral education. It helps you to forget yourself. The difference between mere entertainment and moral education is that moral education returns you to the world better than when you left it.

Old stories like Shakespeare and medieval literature have this quality of moral education. Likewise, children's stories of today also have this same quality. This is why these stories are so good. They are not mere entertainment. They teach us morality and empathy. No sermon or essay can do this like a story can.

Most adult fiction these days is bereft of this moral education. This is primarily a result of the rise of a secular worldview. Stories about virtue are replaced with stories of decadence and despair. Cynicism trashes morality. The result is that a children's book like Harry Potter ends up being a bestseller while adult novelists like Jonathan Franzen ponder the death of the novel.

Novels are dead because they serve no moral purpose. Pure entertainment is not enough to sustain you for 500 pages. The reason I despise my own fiction is because it has served no moral purpose whatsoever. If all fiction accomplishes is to help make your wasted life a little less unpleasant, I don't care to do it. And the fact is that bad writing makes people worse not better.

The world abounds with books, but there are precious few books that are actually any good. I want to write good stuff, and I regret writing bad stuff. I don't know if I can succeed at writing the good stuff, but that is the goal. We will see what it brings.