The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Friday, April 14, 2006

Economical with insight

There is a piece in the recent issue of The Economist that ostensibly discusses the fiction -- and creative ideology -- of Tom Wolfe, but is really an attack on satirical fiction generally. The article makes the point that what happens in real life in the United States is often so outlandish that satirical fiction pales in comparison. (I don't know if the writer is him or herself American; this characterization of American society sounds like a British stereotype. For what it's worth, anyone who thinks the U.S. is, as the article says, "richly bizarre", should spend some time covering the rich and powerful in South Korea.)

In any case, the article is filled with sweeping generalizations. And there's a peevish tone just under its surface: the complaint seems to be that fiction is accorded an immortal worth but journalism isn't.... But, the author seems to feel, it is journalism that is more interesting.

It would be an interesting argument if it were made a little more gracefully (and with more examples). However, the assumption of it is simply wrong. Journalism is doing just fine in the literary marketplace. Non-fiction is booming. The journalistic writers who are quickly forgotten are the magazine writers who don't collect their work into book form, or -- a la Robert Fisk -- put it on the Internet.... Non-fiction has established it is, in terms of market share, the pre-eminent form of writing today. Why can't non-fiction and fiction co-exist in peace rather than be relentlessly subjected to analyses that call for the elimination of the "lesser" form?

As well, considering my own screenplay-novel point of view, The Economist author is plain unimaginative about the strengths of good fiction. It is not intended to outdo "rich bizarreness"; it is to show truths that journalism can't -- emotional truths, above all, and also social truths. Journalism, for its part, excels at telling factual truth. And it can express emotional or social truths, too. But it follows stricter rules. And that is one reason why fiction remains necessary. It is freer.

Hat-tip to Bookninja


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