Friday, July 13, 2012

Entry # 76 - "What Does Good Fiction Do?"

So what does good fiction do for a reader?  I recall a craft essay in the 2010 (29th edition) of Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market by Jack Smith, former co-editor of The Green Hills Literary Lantern, in which he writes about good fiction in the context of modern personal relationship fiction He interviewed a number of fellow journal editors and publishers. Smith sees the fiction world as divided right now - about what good fiction should do.

For example, on one side of the discussion he found Crazy Horse editor, Anthony Varallo, who takes the position that good fiction should “de-emphasize the larger themes of reference beyond the personal” and “stresses that the air of reality or believability is sufficient,” to produce good literature.  Ironically, I suppose this idea drives reality TV.

On the other side of the discussion, Smith quotes Robert L. Giron, EIC for Gival Press, who says “that he isn’t receiving enough fiction that moves beyond characters, their problems, and interpersonal relationships to establish a larger picture.”  He says that while many well-written manuscripts cover the social, personal aspects of life, they fail to develop the larger philosophical issues and tension sufficiently to be used in meaningful discussions. 

Well, Giron should know! After all, his publishing house features many books used by book groups for discussion. Giron says, “What makes serious fiction is what lives on after the technique of writing.”  
Reality Generates Large Questions - Novia Scotia  - May 2012
And when I read a novel or story, I'm inclined to ask myself:  Are there powerful images in my mind and emotions from it? Which is to say: Is it memorable? Does it tend to resonate in my thoughts long after I've finished the book?  I think we’ve all had the experience of reading a book, and perhaps we enjoyed it at the time, and yet a few weeks later, we really can’t remember much about it. 

Perhaps it helps if we remember that reality generates questions, and good fiction, too, should raise questions and generate strong images for readers.

While we all probably can agree that a good novel is about people, and what they do, not just about ideas, the finest fiction does seem to require, at its core, “a larger reason to be” that bravely digs into questions like: Why we’re here? Why do we live? And how do we respond to life’s complexity?
A Beautiful Reality - Jan Bowman - May 2012

  Maybe this is what some of us seek when we read. We want to know:  Will we find a way to survive long enough to learn from it - this business of being alive?

So What Does Good Fiction Do for YOU as a reader?

Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:

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