Good Speculative Fiction: Further Thoughts on Honest Imagination

This week’s post might be seen as really more of an addendum to what I discussed previously, but I think (I hope) there is enough here to merit further treatment:  Good speculative fiction must be tempered with honesty.  If our readers ever sense that we are not being honest with them or the story, they will simply stop listening to us.  Rightly so.

Honesty is certainly different than truth, though people often use the two interchangeably.  Truth is something that exists quite apart from the person speaking it.  A thing is true because it is a correct representation of a larger reality, external to a speaker.  A thing is “true” whether we want it to be or not.  Honesty is something that is internal to a person.  It is a description of how that person deals with truth in relation to other people.  An honest person is one who speaks the truth consistently, often when there are strong and compelling reasons to do otherwise.

In writing, honesty usually takes the form of how we deal with our particular view of the world and how we express it to others. Our approach to the world is, of course, our worldview.  When it is put in such a form as to try to impress parts of that worldview onto others, we might call it an “agenda.”*  We need to begin by realizing that this worldview will always be there, and that it is 100% certain that it will leak into our writing, no matter how hard we may try to keep it out.  If that is so, then we should develop our own unique methods of dealing with it.**

Honesty will be at the base of all truly successful methodology.  A discussion of specific explanations and possible approaches to this question, to be frank, is probably another series of posts in and of itself.  To stay on topic, I find that honesty in fiction often takes the form of three points that all exist in a symbiosis with each other:

  • Honesty affects our ability to understand what our worldview is:  I covered this in a previous post in the series.  Not only is the unexamined life not worth living, it directly affects on our ability to reach others.  We must first be aware of our own worldview before we can decide on the best methods of taking it into account.  How can we do that if we are not first honest with ourselves? A failure here often leads to the wrongheaded idea that we are not allowing what we believe to influence our creations, something that is simply ridiculous.
  • Honesty affects our ability to see specifically how our worldview is appearing in our writing:  Once we are honest enough with ourselves to see our beliefs for what they are, we then must be honest enough to accept how they are manifesting in our stories.  We can take it for granted that our beliefs will show through:  the only question is where, when, and how.  I don’t mean to imply that we need to simply ax every instance–not at all.  We do need to evaluate each one and decide on its appropriateness in that particular context.  We should ask some strong questions:  Why did I include this?  Will this distract from the story or contribute to it?  Does it say something significant?
  • Honesty compels us to stay true to our characters and their actions in the world we’ve created:  Part of good speculative fiction is the idea that we must allow our characters to face the logical consequences of their own actions and for the story to continue down a believable path.  At times, our world view will interfere with our characters and try to divert our story.  For instance, if we desperately want to see people–especially those we love–make good decisions, we can save a character miraculously and insensibly from doing something stupid or even dying.  When we do, we lose credibility with our readers.

In short, honesty is another oft-overlooked aspect of writing.  Readers appreciate it more, perhaps, than others and they will resent being treated with disrespect.  If we want to be the very best we can be as authors, it will be worth our time to look inside and ask the some hard questions.  Once we do that, we have a better idea of what to expect of our prose.


*Let me add that I definitely swim upstream on this issue: not all agendas are bad.  I am decidedly not from the school of thought that says all points of view are equally valid.  That little piece of nonsense hopefully isn’t long for the world–for instance, no reasonable person thinks that the POV of a White Supremacist is in any way just as “valid” as someone who is truly colorblind.  Therefore, when someone successfully “imposes” sense on a member of the KKK, I’m just fine with that.  The reality is that all of our POVs need amending on certain points–mine included.  We can begin to make progress again when we realize that.

**I think another point worth mentioning in passing is that almost everyone I know who reads does so with the expectation of “learning” something from the text.  Few people intentionally read books that they feel have no value whatsoever. The purpose of sitting down to the book may not be education–in fact it may simply be to have a good time and relax–but most everyone tends to think that the best books are the ones that uplift us intellectually and spiritually. In short, they are the ones that reveal something new to us, either about ourselves or something greater.  That “something greater” is the truth that they see shining through our fiction, and that truth ended up there because of our worldviews.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. Speculative Fiction:  A Brilliant Opportunity
  2. Moral Escapism:  Speculative Fiction’s Evil Twin
  3. Good Speculative Fiction: Honesty and Self Awareness
  4. Good Speculative Fiction:  Facing the Consequences
  5. Good Speculative Fiction:  Substantial Imagination
  6. Good Speculative Fiction:  Truth-tempered Imagination

About Brian

I am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!

Posted on March 1, 2012, in Brian Melton, Fantasy, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This is good advice for writers of all genres. Comedy, for instance, doesn’t work if the writer doesn’t write honestly, but of course, the characters are dishonest to themselves (denial) or to each other (scheming to get their needs met). My guess is that your point is that the writer needs to be honest to the story, setting, etc…even if characters are often dishonest, but true to the plot and arc of the story.

    • Yes, though I think its a broader issue of being able to be honest with oneself. That helps us see our writing for what it really is, not what we desperately want it to be.

      I do think that it’s applicable to far more than speculative fiction. Honesty is something that really belongs in the whole of life, if we want it to be a life well-lived. 🙂

  1. Pingback: Good Speculative Fiction: A Variety of Imagination | Lantern Hollow Press

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