Thinking about modern novels

by Daulton Dickey.

Sometimes writing is an exercise in hollowing your brain. Like digging a trench in a concrete parking lot with a dowel shovel, it seems more like healing yourself through bloodletting than anything else. The notion of writing for other people is alien to me. The notion of entertaining people is alien to me.

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Still a romantic, I hold the opinion, or the hope, that ideas and concepts can change people. Or that they can change the world. And so I go cross-eyed when considering people who aspire to write formulaic gobbledygook. Simplify and entertain—that seems to be the motto nowadays. Simplify. Entertain. Plug information into a grid, into formulae, and produce a book you think is different or unique. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the challenge or the adventure?

Rules and formulae have trained readers to expect to encounter certain experiences while reading, and so the author’s job is to facilitate those experiences without deviating from the systemic training an industry and discipline have forced on unsuspecting readers.

Where’s the fun in that?

To deviate from the rules to counter or to dispel readers’ expectations—of what they’ve been trained to expect—seems to occur to few writers. Deviating from such rules would or could serve a purpose: to circumvent the readers’ expectations without resorting to some sort of metafictional gimmick.

Conform to their expectations and then dispel them. That seems intriguing. That seems fun and interesting. Entertainment can’t be the sole criteria on which fiction and literature is founded. It can’t be. And if it is, then we’re all doomed. I’m not suggesting that fiction or literature can’t or shouldn’t be entertaining. But I am suggesting that it should aspire to something greater.

Fiction and literature should entertain, inform, and, ultimately, break people. Only when they’re broken, or when they realize they’re broken, can they begin to piece themselves back together.

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