The Subversive Qualities of Fiction

By Karla Fetrow

It’s exciting, this immersion into the information age, the hum and pulse of cables, the triumph of computerized networks.  The opportunities expand before us to share what we know, absorb what we’ve learned, articulate our opinions based on the facts presented before us.  Never, at any other time in history, has so much information been so readily available at our fingertips.

We are a society obsessed with news, what’s new and media exposure.  While we bask in reality shows, entertainment tonight and Judge Judy, we shunt aside the craftsmanship of episodic script writing.  While we daily shift through the news as an ongoing drama, we forget how its passage has brought us to this complex and unresolved accord.  While we absorb information, we are not looking for answers.  We are trapped in the dilemma of issues and their counter-measures.

The answers rarely appear in the presentation of documentary writing, as while the writer struggles to retain the objective view, the reader is building a subjective response.  The admirable quality of non-fiction is all the cards are laid out on the table, including the trump.  However, it’s not the presentation of facts that have historically swayed the masses, but the presentation of fiction.  According to legend, Harriet Beecher Stowe was told by President Lincoln, in reference to her best selling book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, “so you’re the little woman who started a war.”  “To Kill a Mockingbird” did as much to advance civil rights movements as Martin Luther King.

There’s nothing more challenging than the art of fiction writing.  The writer must build believable characters; and not just believable, but a character the readers are willing to follow.  One they sympathize with, identify with or fall in love with; sometimes, even a character they love to hate.  The writer must persuade the reader of the rational qualities in the individual points of view.  Reasons must be delivered for actions, motivations for responses.  Answers must be concentrated on because the plot consists of conflict and how the characters resolve it; whether constructively or to their detriment.

For these reasons, fiction writing is subversive.  The personalities are timeless and play out their functional roles on history’s stage.  The situations, the environment, the solutions all differ, but there are only a few basic plots, for humankind revolves around a few basic expressions.  We learn to love or hate, to strive or surrender, to choose between violence and peace.  The lessons learned from a well written fiction story carries a far greater impact on our perspective of others and social awareness, than all the documented research papers we could accumulate.

The fiction story is the processing of this accumulation.  It is the writer who has stepped outside of self to present another whose internal integrity is completely dependent on how far the writer can carry objectivity into opposing characters, who has become subversive.  The writer has taken the understanding of opposing views and built them into identifiable characters.  These characters don’t always have clearly defined lines between good and evil, heroes and villains, demons and saints, because that is the human situation.  We are, individually and as a whole, neither flawless, nor are we imperfect.  We are the reflection of environment and heritage, the texture and mix that creates drama, humor, romance and pathos.

The fiction story has been fading into the background for a long time.  Efforts to revive it has resulted in specialized sponsorship and unpredictable genre rages.  It began with the armchair ease of media entertainment, shuffled back farther with the luxuries of choosing favorite movies, was little more than a pin drop by the time interactive video games started.  The shift away from fiction writing is not only deeply reflective in television, but in the movie industry, as well.  More and more, action flicks and comedies are becoming an eye glut for incredible action sequences, with very little attention given to plot or dialog.  There is almost a desperation in coming up with scripts; drawing heavily on re-makes, comic book character addictions, and even pulling video game heroes out to create stories.

There is no greater human resource than our imaginations.  Imagination allowed us to see the formula for invention.  Imagination caused us to probe the stars and inquire of the ocean’s depths.  Imagination set the cornerstone for each turn and step of humankind’s progress as a civilization.  Imagination opens the doors to infinite futures.

There is no better time than now to bring fiction reading back to the forefront as a leisurely pleasure.  Fewer people can afford summer vacations.  Many households have eliminated the luxuries of cable television, upgraded technology, additional games, weekly restaurant dates, nights at the theater…  Fiction reading remains, by far, the cheapest form of entertainment.  It gives you many of the benefits of non-fiction; a cultural view, a sense of the historical time era, a social or political message,   But fiction has the potential to give so much more.  It allows you to be there, to see through the eyes of the narrator, to touch and feel the dynamics of your surroundings.  Sometimes, fiction is a vacation, a fantasy within a favorite character or place.  Sometimes, it’s the disturbing echoes of the thoughts that flash through your sub-conscious mind.  Sometimes it’s humor.  Sometimes, it’s understanding.  Sometimes it’s a bridge of communications and once in awhile, it answers questions.

About karlsie

Some great perversity of nature decided to give me a tune completely out of keeping with the general symphony; possibly from the moment of conception. I learned to read and speak almost simultaneously. The blurred and muffled world I heard through my first five years of random nerve loss deafness suddenly came alive with the clarity of how those words sounded on paper. I had been liberated for communications. I decided there was nothing more wonderful than writing. It was easier to write than carefully modulate my speech for correct pronunciation, and it was easier to read than patiently follow the movements of people’s lips to learn what they were saying. It was during that dawning time period, while I slowly made the connection that there weren’t that many other people who heard the way I did, halfway between sound and music, half in deafness, that I began to understand that the tune I was following wasn’t quite the same as that of my classmates. I was just a little different. General education taught me not only was I just a little isolated from my classmates, my home was just a little isolated from the outside world. I was born in Alaska, making me part of one of the smallest, quietest minorities on earth. I decided I could live with this. What I couldn’t live with was discovering a few years later, in the opening up of the pipeline, which coincided with my first year of junior college, that there were entire communities of people; more than I could possibly imagine; living impossibly one on top of another in vast cities. It wasn’t even the magnitude of this vision that inspired me so much as the visitors who came from these populous regions and seemed to possess a knowledge so great and secretive I could never learn it in any book. I became at once, very conscious of how rural I was and how little I knew beyond the scope of my environment. I decided it was time to travel. The rest is history; or at least, the content of my stories. I traveled... often to college campuses, dropping in and out of school until one fine day by chance I’d fashioned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. I’ve worked a couple of newspapers, had a few poems and stories tossed around in various small presses, never receiving a great deal of money, which I’m assured is the norm for a writer. I spent ten years in Mexico, watching the peso crash. There is some obscure reason why I did this, tightening up my belt and facing hunger, but I believe at the time I said it was for love. Here I am, back home, in my beloved Alaska. I’ve learned somewhat of a worldly viewpoint; at least I like to flatter myself that way. I’ve also learned my rural roots aren’t so bad after all. I work in a small, country store. Every day I greet the same group of local customers, but make no mistake. My store isn’t a scene out of Andy Griffith. The people who enter the establishment, which also includes showers, laundry and movie rentals, are miners, oil workers, truck drivers, construction engineers, dog sled racers and carpenters. Sometimes, on the liquor side, the conversations became adult only in vocabulary. It’s a good thing, on the opposite side of the store is a candy aisle filled with the most astonishing collection, it will keep a kid occupied with just wishing for hours. If you tell your kids they can have just one, you have an instant baby sitter; better than television; as they agonize over their choice while you catch up on the gossip with your neighbor. We also receive a lot of tourists, a lot of foreign visitors. They are usually amazed at this first sign of Alaskan rural life style beyond the insulating hub of the Anchorage bowl. Many of them like to hang around and chat. They gawk at our thieves wanted posters. They laugh at our jokes and camaraderie with our customers. I’ve learned another lesson while working there. You don’t have to go out and find the world. If you wait long enough, it comes to you.

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5 Comments on “The Subversive Qualities of Fiction”

  1. Fiction has always had a larger affect on shaping who I am – when I saw the first “Friday the 13th”, I rolled my eyes; when I read Bram Stoker in celebration of finally getting my own room, I ended up moving back into the shared room. “Dorian Gray” taught me about the value of who I was over who I wished I could be. Tom Robbins and Tom Holt have influenced my style of writing. One would hope that fiction does make a return to the forefront of entertainment as it opens so many windows while the visual entertainment tends to focus a person on what the makers wish.

  2. I agree entirely and have long felt that fiction was a truer gage of the social climate than so called “non-fiction” Fiction allows us to teach and reach and bend our thoughts in ways that seem incomprehensible if we rely on the day to day reality of life.
    Some would argue that “real life” is enough of a teacher, however it cannot do what fiction does, reach into the soul of an individual and speak directly to them on their chosen level.
    It is for this reason sages and prophets teach in parables, because fiction is more effective at reaching a wider audience.

    I would however argue that “reality” television is replacing fiction, it is in a sense another type of fiction. There is nothing real about lives being lived out in front of a camera, at that point people begin living out their own fictional scripts which in a way is very interesting.

    Another thing I have noticed is that the “fact mongers” or “pundits” are beginning to seek to make what was meant to be fiction/fables/faerie tales into truth;as in the case of scripture, mythology, folk tales, ghost stories. Does this make these things less fictional? Not really, it simply serves to confuse the masses.
    In the end the stories still teach, which is what is needed in the end game.

    We will never lose fiction altogether.

  3. Grainne, i see the reality shows more as the type of fiction children make up spontaneously while playing “make believe”. There is no true plot, only a presentation of characters week after week. What you see has been contrived, which is fictional, but there is a difference. Fiction seeks to surprise you, thus luring you into its complexities, while in reality shows, you see and know the contrivances beforehand. Reality shows are part of that wonderful American fiction; i.e., anyone can be President. Anyone can be rich. Anyone can be famous.

    Without the skills of fresh fiction writing, the entertainment industry of television and film will stagnate. There is only so much that can be done with graphics, animation, illusion; even good acting. If you’ve already seen seven variations of the same plot, do you really wish to see it another time? If kids can find more interesting plot lines by writing in their own scripts on interactive video games, why should they find a more redundant film attractive to watch?

    Beyond the commercial consideration, fiction is an integral part of the arts. We can all roll-over favorite authors whose primary contributions were fiction, but whose style and finesse were such as to make them memorable. They were authors who placed us crucially into a landscape, a history, a people, a culture, a philosophy. They were authors who gripped our imaginations. If we allow fiction to die, we lose not just a craft; but an art. For that reason alone, i believe there will be a revival in fiction writing.

  4. Great article! Makes one want to start writing fiction again. Fiction is the closest thing to godliness, to brilliance, that we have in human communication. It teaches, informs and motivates people in a way that nonfiction can’t. Of all the work I’ve ever written or read by others, the only pieces that stick out in my mind are great works of fiction. Keep up the good work.

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