By Glenn Packiam
I have always been a reader, but I haven't really been much of a fiction reader. At the risk of revealing my snobbery, I must confess that I used to think of fiction as a waste of time. I read for information. I want to learn! Who has time for silly stories?
Over the last few years, I've realized what a fool I've been for ignoring great stories. Here are just a few of the things I'm reminded of when I read good fiction:
The power of storytelling is not just in the story but in the telling. Not all fiction is created equal. Many stories rely on gimmicks and tricks, with more plot twists than a bubble gum blockbuster. No doubt, these stories are entertaining, but they will never be great. They acheive an emotional response by manipulating the reader not be truly letting him enter the story.
Take Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, which I only recently read. There's not much of a plot per se. An old man goes too far out to catch a fish too big and struggles with sharks and fatigue as he tries to make it home. But that's not it. The way Hemingway tells us the story makes us feel the cracking rope burn against our hands, taste the salty breeze on our parched lips, and rise up with the deterimination to conquer age and nature and all the criticisms of society.
Solzhenitsyn's One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich is, as you would guess a story of one day. Yet, that one day captures so beautifully all the agony and disappointment and hope of living in a Siberian concentration camp-- ordered by the country he had once fought for.
The lesson is simple: how we say something is every bit as important as what we are trying to say. How we do something matters as much as what it is we are trying to accomplish. This foolish pragmatism of having to learn something efficiently or communicate something directly robs us of the joy of life. And God's way of teaching us is usually not as direct as we'd like. Sometimes it takes 40 years of wandering to test our hearts and make us humble.
Every scene matters. Telling a story well means treating every scene with equal delicacy. Tolstoy in Anna Karenina transports us to elegant parties in Moscow and peasant farms in the countryside with equal deftness. Each scene is described in detail, making them believable and "feel-able".
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