Monday, November 26, 2018

From The “Why Am I Doing This?” Files

     Well, apparently Black Friday isn’t a choice day for a book promotion. Nor has Experiences set the world on fire just yet. But then, the stories I tell are pretty outré, so I shouldn’t expect them to be popular, right?

     So why do I write them?

     It’s a question I’ve asked myself before. I’ve also answered it before. However, owing to the amount of effort my novels demand of me, there are days the answer doesn’t pop out of the usual slot. So I compel myself to think about it afresh.

     On average, completing a novel-length story takes me about a year. That’s not a “standard,” 2000-hour work year typical of wage employment; it’s just the elapsed time from inception to release. I do other things during that time, of course, or I wouldn’t have a properly stocked larder, clean clothes, and an orderly house (and you wouldn’t get these sententious essays). My estimate for the average number of “labor hours” I put into a novel is about 700. I seem unable to speed up the process.

     That’s an average, Gentle Reader. Love in the Time of Cinema took fewer hours of effort; Which Art In Hope took far more. Each novel, however, has required an emotional commitment of a sort virtually every artist or craftsman will recognize: a dedication to the story as worthy of the effort regardless of how it will eventually be greeted by the reading public.

     In other words, the story must strike me as being worth telling in and of itself.

     I’ve occasionally lamented the fall-off in originality that’s afflicted fantasy, science fiction, and horror: the three “speculative” genres. But originality has its costs. One of them is the eschewal of trend-following: i.e., “getting on the gravy train.” Another is a near-constant state of self-questioning: the “why am I doing this?” of the title.

     Even the most dedicated creator will doubt himself. (Not the Creator, mind you; just us fleshbound types.) “Why am I doing this when I could be simulating traffic patterns / jumping my wife / finishing Rise of the Tomb Raider? Where’s the return on investment?”

     The return on investment must come from the work itself. The tangible ROI, for a typical indie writer, is likely to be paltry. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m terrible at promotion.

     That’s why I emphasize the importance of theme.

     Every worthwhile story speaks of the nature of Man.

     The previous sentence is a slight misstatement for purposes of impact. In a more accurate formulation, “Man” would be replaced by “personhood.” There are ineluctable consequences to personhood. The requirements:

  • Delimited existence;
  • Individual consciousness;
  • Limited powers;
  • Inescapable needs;
  • Individual wants and priorities;

     ...give rise to everything else: what philosopher Loren Lomasky called the nature of the “project pursuer.” They also give rise to the moral and ethical laws that bind us. Tom Kratman has called these properties “the eternal verities.” It’s the right name for them, for as Thomas Carlyle once wrote, they are “fixed by the everlasting congruity of things” and are not alterable by any artifice.

     The theme of a worthwhile story must perforce be the illumination some aspect of the nature of Man and the laws that flow from it.

     Just in case you’ve been reading this half-asleep – I know, a lot of my tripe reads better that way – this is a fiction writer talking about fiction from an existential perspective: a “why bother?” sort of inquiry. It’s inherently opinion rather than exposition. However, it explains – to my satisfaction, at least – why so much fiction is inherently forgettable:

A poor story illuminates nothing of importance to us.

     Please don’t mistake me. It’s not that we don’t know our own natures or the moral and ethical laws that flow from them. Our knowledge of those things is built-in, installed by God and communicated to us through our consciences. So it’s unlikely that even the best story will tell the reader something he never knew. It’s more likely to remind him of something he’s always known, though he might have temporarily mislaid (or overlooked) it.

     The desire to dramatize elements of that knowledge is why I write. A factual-logical argument for a baldly stated abstraction, no matter how imperative, doesn’t capture the allegiance of the listener nearly as well as a dramatic demonstration of how it would work among characters the reader cares about. Ayn Rand inspired more freedom advocates with Atlas Shrugged than the thousands of purely factual and logical arguments for individual freedom that came before her.

     The great persuaders have all known this. Start from Jesus Christ and work your way forward.

     My futanari stories have had several different principal themes. Innocents is about the importance of justice to the just and what it can compel them to do. Experiences dramatizes the power of the need for acceptance. I have a third novel-length story percolating as I write this – working title The Wise and the Mad — in which I intend to address the supreme question of our time: what is tolerable, what is not, and how to distinguish between them. (I think of this as the “one idiot allowed per village” problem.)

     Perhaps we already know the answers to the questions above. Perhaps, if pressed, any man could articulate the answers. But there’s more juice – more power to motivate – in a story about such things than in any dry academic argument about them.

     And with that, it’s back to my labors. Keep the faith.


Dystopic said...

The whole concept of Innocents (and presumably, Experiences, though I have not yet had time to dive in to the sequel) is... well, fascinating, given our current times and some of the thorny moral messes present these days.

I didn't know what to think when I first started reading. But, it's worth noting that I didn't STOP reading. You have a way with your writing, a way of illuminating our way out of some of the bizarre moral problems of our age.

Put another way, it certainly DID illuminate something of importance.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Thank you, Dys. Not that all moral problems are easily illuminated, mind you. (I only do the easy ones.) But it helps to put them in fictional form, where they can be made maximally dramatic.