Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

What’s The Writer’s Job? ~ Recording Or Creating?

I’m venturing into dangerous territory with the title of this post…

Let me clarify the exact bit of territory I want to defend.

First, when I ask if the writer’s job is recording or creating, certain easy and obvious answers come up:

* Journalists mostly record, though they can do it creatively.
* Essayists and article writers can slide back and forth between recording and creating.
* Fiction writers create, though there may be a bit of recording in some of their work.

In this post, I’m only going to talk about fiction writers and the specific territory I want to defend is this:

Even if a fiction writer uses real life settings, or even, at times, real life people in their work, they should always have the creation dial set at max and the recording dial turned way down.

Some of you might consider that last sentence as being too obvious to need any discussion.

Some of you might want to start an argument with me.

I’ll address my defense to the people who want to argue. The rest of you might wonder what the heck there is to argue about. Fiction is creation, and that’s that. Well…

Some fiction writers feel that their job is to record life; maybe do it with some creativity, but capturing what exists and rendering it is their prime function. I, almost violently, disagree.

I’ll include a link here to an article on Naturalistic Literature but not as any sort of proof of what I want to say. It’s merely to give you an example of the worst type of fiction writer–not necessarily worst as far as how they use words (they may be quite literary) but worst because of what their writing says about humanity.

Naturalistic literature gives what some folks might say is a true picture of the human condition, an almost scientific recording of the plight of certain people. Well, even a highly creative fiction writer might include a rather reportorial rendition of someone in their work; but, if they are true creators, they’ll find a way to infuse what may be sordid or terrifying conditions with a sense of underlying hope or faith. Let me try a short, and simplistic, example:

Take a character who’s a day laborer, beats his wife and children, and discovers he has terminal cancer.

The naturalist would merely record the conditions and have the character die off. The reader would receive no more value than if they actually knew such a person and stood by and watched the man come home every day, beat his wife and kids, then die of cancer.

The creative writer could take the same character and use their circumstances to show any number of human principles that could raise the man’s actions and death to a level that could inspire the reader–possibly to help abused women and children, or investigate the relationship between anger and cancer, or at least serve as moral food for thought.

My firm belief is that fiction’s proper purpose is to help humanity raise its sights, improve its situation, and strengthen its resolve to make life really matter…

I’m not trying to advocate some sort of sterile, moralistic fiction. We still need a damn good read and we don’t need a book telling us how to live our lives. Still… Showing the reader that even the worst conditions can hold some promise for improvement, even if the characters fail miserably to attain that promise, is, to me, a job that fiction writers should always be working to master.

Would you want to read a book in which the characters always fail at life?

Would you like to read a story that had a few characters who failed but you still had your feelings affected in a way that helped you, in your own life, to understand or heal or help?

O.K. That’s as far as I can take my foray into this dangerous territory; at least, in this post…
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17 responses to “What’s The Writer’s Job? ~ Recording Or Creating?

  1. Simone Benedict January 3, 2011 at 8:53 am

    I’ll be interested in seeing where this post goes. I once read something to the effect that an artist’s biggest frustration was that he couldn’t actually something new. I’ve also read that writers’ works are just slices from who or what they know that they have rearranged to form something or someone new. I call it the Frankensteinian theory of a writer’s method. I don’t know why people are so hard on writers. They don’t do that to the stonemason. He too takes what he knows and builds something of beauty (hopefully). That was another good point you made.


    • Alexander M Zoltai January 3, 2011 at 9:05 am

      Well, Simone, I feel the topic of this post will get a revisit, but maybe not right away :-)

      The two extremes you’ve read about certainly end up as written works but to say that either extreme is all a writer can do is unrealistic…

      I *love* your reference to the stonemason :-)

      P.S. Congratulations on being the first commenter on this new blog!!


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  4. HaleyWhitehall January 17, 2011 at 1:56 am

    I will have to ponder on this post a while. I can see your point about creation. I do believe everything that is written has some personal connection to the author what Simone called slices from who or what they know. I do not like naturalistic writing because it lacks creative substance. It is like a news report and I get enough of that dreary stuff from actual news sources. I see your point that creative writers can show human principles in a story. I agree with you completely. That is one of the things that I like best about being a creative writer. Excellent post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Simone Benedict January 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    This post is one of yours that I mull over quite a bit. At this point I’d have to admit I obsess over this particular post.


    • Alexander M Zoltai January 25, 2011 at 9:30 pm

      Well, Simone, if it helps in your mulling obsession, I think this bit from the post sums up my deepest feelings on the subject:

      “…they’ll find a way to infuse what may be sordid or terrifying conditions with a sense of underlying hope or faith.”

      Sure hope you come back and say more about what you think/feel on this topic !!


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  8. Salvatore Pope Ritondo December 13, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    This post says so much about your writing and amazing ability to not be held to any template of profitable standards set by so many traditional publishers in the field or even worse attention seekers that focus so much on pain with no redemption. I struggle at work with EMO poets whom often focus only on suicidal sadness and gangsta rappers who kill and teach others to kill. They are welcome as creators to any creative writing workshop but their work seems to merely RECORD chaos. You have just set the MISSION statement for my writers group. THANK YOU>

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alexander M Zoltai December 13, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      WOW !!, Sal, you really did dig deep into the Archives…

      I Totally admire your work as prison librarian and pray you can regularly alleviate the stress it engenders…

      If you can facilitate a creation-over-recording Mission with your writing group, you’ll have given them a Great Gift :-)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Salvatore Pope Ritondo December 13, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    As a writer and a researcher having full access to the archives of this blog is going to be immensely helpful!

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. jalapenopopey March 5, 2018 at 8:55 am

    Back again, I see I revisited in 2014 as well, my mind often carries me back to your archives.
    “I’m not trying to advocate some sort of sterile, moralistic fiction. We still need a damn good read and we don’t need a book telling us how to live our lives.” Such an important goal and one that finally explains something to me. Why do I like so many bad writers…At the university I would often hide my favorite bestsellers from others, but my favorites told stories that ended up giving some hope to the hopeless Sparks bad writer but shows the value of love over sickness, money, hate in A Walk to Remember, Fiction is important.

    Liked by 1 person

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