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Social Implications for Fiction Writers

March 24, 2014

It’s not often that the Introduction in a book makes a great impression on me – especially one I had no particular expectations of.  Most of the time, Introductions are bland or are filled with acknowledgments.  Either way, they are rarely noteworthy.

While waiting for my computer to download an update, I picked up a copy of “Becoming a Writer” by Dorothea Brande, 1934 edition.  A friend had given it to me several months earlier, and I had added it to the growing pile of books I wanted to eventually read.  It was convenient to grab that particular book, so I did and began reading its Introduction.

“Fiction supplies the only philosophy that many readers know; it establishes their ethical, social and material standards; it confirms them in their prejudices or opens their minds to a wider world.”  That was an amazing sentence, considering my husband and I had discussed this very topic only the night before. He had been reading an historical article that was compelling in its wealth of information, but weighted with one-sided editorializing to the point of creating misinformation.   Basic historical facts were used to cloak an unsubstantiated personal theory — about social biases, with credibility.  The fictional aspect of the personal theory became a tool to reinforce old prejudices.

Ms. Brande continued to amaze me:

“The influence of any widely read book can hardly be over-estimated.  If it is sensational, shoddy or vulgar our lives are the poorer for the cheap ideals which it sets in circulation;  if, as so rarely happens, it is a thoroughly good book, honestly conceived and honestly executed, we are all indebted to it.”  Truer words, as the old saying goes, were never spoken, or written in this case.  The lessening of standards has cheapened us all, fraction by fraction.  Instead of making ourselves work to improve ourselves to attain lofty goals, we keep lowering the bar so that no one is left behind, and in doing so we negate any incentive to excel.  We have trained ourselves to be mentally and physically lazy.

Perhaps that is why it is so difficult for exceptional prose to be successful in today’s marketplace.  Many readers are unwilling to work that hard to appreciate it, so fewer writers are willing to risk writing it.  What a sad outcome.  Our lives have indeed “become poorer” overall.  It will take several generations of challenged readers to revitalize several generations of discouraged writers.  We should applaud those who take the risk of writing “thoroughly good books” and pray that there will always be brave souls among us who continue to do so.

Courtesy of Morguefile.

Courtesy of Morguefile.

[Quotes are from “Becoming a Writer” by Dorothea Brande. Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., New York. 1934.  Third printing.]

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