Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fact and fiction

[part of a series about the mechanics of writing fiction]

Will Self recently railed aghainst the classification of the roman a clef as fiction: he said that it should be treated as disguised memoir. I don't really see the point of writing about real people and events and lightly amending names. The drearily literal 'novel' in which everything is researched is a blight of modern times, of course. Don't the writers see that their job is to make stuff up?

Readers of course do like to try to search a text for patches where the writer is simply recounting their own experience unaltered (hence the problem with writing about sex); taken to an extreme this means that it becomes impossible for a writer to describe extreme opinions or actions without being suspected.

My view is that the real world is too dreary to merit inclusion in fiction. As Martin Amis said of his father's books, people spend too much time drinking tea. As a result, there isn't a superfluous adjective applied in my stories: the one thing the reader can be certain of is that a closely-described physical setting or person is completely fictional; the telling details are there to convince.

Having said that, there is a residual validity to the point that questions that interest writers imply something about their thoughts. I may or may not have a negative view of the role of the modern landed gentry in society (on balance yes, but mildly, would be my answer), but I'm intrigued enough by the issue to deal with at at some length in Change and Decay. But having such an interest is not the same thing as having a manifesto or a coherent body of thought around a topic.

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