But I have gotten so used to this place… writing about stuff I haven’t really a clue about! What am I to do now? Go back to mundane thrillers and financial crime? And, me being so late with this post… What will you readers be looking for now?
If in doubt… write from experience! Write what you know and can feel!
Yes, all well and good, I say… but there is an existential paradox here (big words #1 & #2) Oooo! I love it when I get philosophical! (Big word #3) Again I digress…
The Existential Paradox of Fiction
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Write what you know and can feel? But I write fiction. Fiction is not real. I cannot KNOW it; neither can I actually FEEL it! I cannot therefore write fiction based on what I know and feel. I cannot write what I cannot know. QED!
Existentially, if in doubt… what the h*** do I do now? How can I effectively write fiction if writing is best based on knowledge and experience and I have neither?
Research, I hear you say. (Well I might, if I could get the hang of this auto-suggestion malarkey!)
Research is a search for knowledge – perhaps the knowledge I need to write the fiction I am planning. But research implies a systematic investigation to establish facts and it usually also implies a scientific (not existential) method. What good is research to me? I am trying to write about stuff that does not exist – it is FICTION!
I repeat: F I C T I O N ! ! !
What about applied research, though? Surely that is different?
Oh, yes! Discovery and interpretation – all designed to advance human knowledge. But, knowledge as the basis of the unreal – of fiction? The paradox again. There are no facts concerning what is not real.
Now here’s one! Artistic research… Debatable! Art as an alternative in the search for knowledge and truth? Dubious, surely… but we are still digressing from the paradox! There are no facts concerning what is not real.
The existential paradox suggests: “why should we bother to develop our individual knowledge-bases as an aid to writing fiction – developing untrue narratives for the purpose of entertainment, not the advancement of human knowledge – why?
Why bother with research? We can just make stuff up, surely!
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Case in point! A short time ago, I posted the opening chapter of my work in progress – the sequel to River of Judgement – in which I set the villain of the peace in a tricky situation in Libya. What do I know of Libya, or what an encounter with a criminal master-mind would be like? I know nothing. It’s fiction. I just made it up!
I created a social situation in a country that I have never visited, in a world (of crime) that I have never witnessed, about people that are wholly fictitious! If I was to gather facts – research, if you like – to develop the knowledge to write that scene on the basis of what I knew to be the case, I could end up in a pretty dicey situation myself. That is, assuming that such a reality actually existed somewhere, and didn’t mind being exposed in a real narrative. But then, that would not be fiction… ;)
I have missed a point here (deliberately so, in the hope that I could find enough to write about, lol)
The paradox of the unreal real is simply solved.
The answer lies in counterfactual analysis (big word #4). Assume the fiction is real, as we write about it. We research for facts that would support our fictional reality (if it was real). We research to support the narrative, not to provide it.
We want our readers to believe in the worlds we create. But the great thing is, these worlds we create don’t actually have to BE real. The world of our fictional narrative merely has to give the impression of a reality, long enough to engage our readers.
Fictional worlds, the places and characters that exist within them and the lives and actions we portray as fiction writers, form what can be described as socio-cultural contexts of systems of meaning, action, and/or beliefs.
These contexts of systems are basic to the world they describe. They are “plausibility structures”, and are a dialectic (given up counting big words now). Our fictional world should comprise a plausible structure, one that supports the fictional narrative. It does not replace it. And the fictional narrative, drawing on the plausible structure, in turn, suggests that structure is wholly real! The narrative acts to make the fictional world self-evident.
So research becomes a necessity if we do not have the knowledge to create and write about plausible structures.
And where does that leave the opening of my sequel set in Libya? Is my reality plausible? (Not factual.) Well, lucky me, this weekend I am about to set foot on Libyan soil for the first time in my life. I shall take full advantage of gaining experiences that will help me develop the structure of my fictional world – but I shall not worry a jot about the narrative! :)