BLTC Press Titles

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Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment

Rudolf Steiner

Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett

Fundamentals of fiction writing

by Arthur Sullivant Hoffman


The Illusion and Its Hold.—Naturally perfection of illusion is not generally attained, and naturally what holds some readers in thrall may not hold others. The more sophisticated the reader, the more difficult, other things being equal, to make him lose himself utterly in the story. Probably, too, the more fiction one has read, the less readily is one swept away into the story's spell. The same obstructions hold in any art, or in eating or any other pleasure. The penalty of sophistication in anything is further removal from the direct, elemental appeal. The penalty of satiety and overuse is a dulling of response. But these facts do not alter the matter of what the appeal is.

But do not the sophisticated get more out of fiction—out of the "highbrow" fiction they tend toward—than do the unsophisticated out of the same fiction? Get more what? More of the finer shadings undoubtedly, but less of the elemental appeal. And is it really fiction they are reading or something else mixed with fiction, and is it from fiction or other things they draw pleasure or edification? Their attitude is at least partly that of a critic rather than a recipient; their interest in "What is happening" is at least partly distracted to "how it is written." From fiction itself, from fiction as fiction, the unsophisticated, granting them understanding of the words they read, in most cases get a greater intensity of appeal than do the others. Understand, I am speaking not of general sophistication but of sophistication in fiction.

Fiction a Vehicle.—As you run over in your mind various writers of acknowledged rank you may feel that, in face of that rank, illusion is an unsound basis of test and comparison. The stumbling-block is that much of what we call fiction is not pure fiction but a hybrid, a cross, a half-breed or even a quadroon—fiction plus an essay, treatise, study, sermon, analysis, philosophy, satire, propaganda, a performance in technique, an exhibition of style, what you will. It is often the other element or elements, or the combination of elements, that appeals and that gives rank and value. There is no reason why writings should not be read and written for the sake of these other elements or of the combinations, but such writings are not pure fiction.

In such cases fiction is used not for itself alone but as a vehicle for something else. The wagon and its load may be more pleasing and valuable than the wagon alone, but only the wagon is fiction and therefore it is with the wagon alone that we are now concerned. No matter how good the load may be, you can not carry it unless you can build and drive a good wagon. Probably the majority of writers will profit most by giving their whole attention to the wagon, partly because they haven't a sufficiently valuable load to put in it and partly because they need their undivided effort to make the wagon fit to carry anything. Certainly it is sound for ninety-odd per cent. of fiction writers to master their vehicle before they attempt hauling messages and information in it.

This book deals with straight fiction only. Straight fiction may of course include analysis, philosophy, technique, information and all the other things for which it is so often made the vehicle, but if it is to remain straight fiction, these niust be really integral and necessary parts of it—analysis of or by the characters themselves, the information inherent in the material, the technique necessary for presentation, the philosophy of a character, locality or nation. Having sufficiently mastered straight fiction, a writer is infinitely more likely to be successful in registering on his readers whatever it is he may wish to convey through fiction as a vehicle. His message may be so interesting or important that people will seize upon it eagerly, no matter how crude or weak the fiction-vehicle may be, but it would reach them all the more strongly if the vehicle were a competent carrier.

Illusion the Essence of Fiction.—The very essence of straight fiction is the creation and maintenance of an illusion. That this truth has been so largely lost sight of is due largely to the frequent mixture of fiction with other things, so that the mixture, instead of fiction itself, has tended to become the model and standard. If American writers are to make more rapid progress toward real success, they would do well to segregate fiction and study it for itself alone.

Illusion Easily Shattered.—Successful illusion depends on an infinite variety of things, is as sensitive to breakage as is a bubble and, once broken, though it can be again created, its strength is irremediably impaired. A writer of any merit can impose his illusion, yet often he does so apparently through instinct only, without evidence of carefully conBidered knowledge and intent . Certainly it is maddeningly common to see him again and again destroy his illusion, if only temporarily, with some "little" flaw that would almost unconsciously be avoided if he had clear conception of the fundamental importance of perfect and uninterrupted illusion.

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