Analytical blogging, of the kind that I write, is very direct about its meaning. I state my thesis and I make arguments in favor of it. Or I state a question, and do my best to answer it. If you didn’t understand the meaning, either I didn’t make myself clear, or you didn’t read very carefully.
But when it comes to fiction, what does it even mean for it to have meaning? This is a question that puzzles and amuses me, particularly in contrast to the meaning of analytic blogging. Does that mean that the work of fiction uses arguments to advance a thesis? Surely not. Or at least not most of the time.
Of course, there is a kind of fiction with well-defined theses, which is read by many children. I’m thinking of Aesop’s fables. In a typical fable, you’d have talking animals, and one of the animals would do something foolish and meet a band end for it. The moral of the story is that what they did was wrong. This was also the structure followed by the cartoon shows of my youth.
I think there’s a reason these kinds of stories only work for kids. You can easily put a thesis into a work of fiction, but how do you argue for it? Having a character meet a bad end is not a very good argument. Maybe if it were a real person rather than a fictional character, they wouldn’t meet a bad end after all. Children may find these stories persuasive, but they’re certainly not up to standards for this blogger.
Your mileage may vary. Sometimes the stories are compelling enough that most people would agree that something like that would happen in real life. For instance, most people would agree that if you lie, the one of the consequences is that people will trust you less, and that’s what happens in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. On the other hand, perhaps that’s simply saying that fiction is rather good at arguing in favor of theses that you already agree with.
Now that’s an interesting thought. Maybe some fiction really is about arguing in favor of things you already believe. This actually isn’t too different from analytic blogging, for many of us like to read blogs that we already agree with. So if we’re puzzled by the meaning of fiction, perhaps it is good to ask what is the purpose of reading blogs that you already agree with? There may be entertainment value, or it may be validating to find that other people agree with you. Or maybe it’s about exploring the details that you haven’t yet reflected on.
I believe that most good fiction follows this same pattern. Good fiction doesn’t state a proposition and make arguments in favor of it. Rather, it explores a general topic, illuminating perspectives and frameworks that we might otherwise have failed to locate. Fiction does not so much advance arguments in favor of any particular perspective, as it does assist you in coming to your own opinions about them.
Of course, this requires you to broadly agree with the author. I think this explains why it’s so much more frustrating to read a work of fiction you disagree with than to read a work of nonfiction you disagree with. A work of fiction offers no arguments, and simply asserts the consequences faced by fictional characters with fictional behaviors.
1. I suppose some fiction doesn’t say anything about the real world, and is simply about the excitement of space wizards using their wizardly sciences to fight epic battles. Which is fine, I don’t mean to knock that. (return)