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"Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
- G.K. Chesterton
What is the purpose of your story? Hopefully you don't just want to extend your fame as a writer. Instead, you want to offer something to your audience.
A writer may have a variety of goals in mind. In my estimation, one of the most important is to evoke. And, to evoke, the author needs to connect.
In this case, the story will need to stimulate an emotion that comes from the reader's life experience.
For example, if the reader had experience in ground warfare, a story might evoke fear and terror learned in that setting. However, as a protection against hurt, that reader might only risk those memories if the story is written by a comrade-in-arms.
More typically, consider the grief someone feels when they have lost a beloved companion –a spouse or other family member or close friend. Here the author may become a grief counselor, and this involves increased responsibilities.
In this case a reader can permit the story to penetrate into protected areas. The new life a reader has developed to cope with the loss has been hiding the grief, but now the story opens the door and the reader clearly sees the new reality in contrast with suppressed grief. As an example for someone who has lost a loved one to cancer, the recent film "Wild!" powerfully evokes moments of impending and actual loss.
In a role as grief counselor, the author leaves the arena of director/producer and fades into the background. Regardless of details, the narrative stands back as the emotion and memory which is normally shielded from expression bursts forth with new power.
Some readers might object, for it can be embarrassing to weep or act erratically while viewing a film or reading a book in a public place. In my view, on the other hand, this as one of the most powerful roles an author can assume, for the story has successfully removed a shield and opened the spigot for a reader's self-introspection. This can achieve the goal often set forth by meditation exercises and other artificial stimuli.
At this point, confronted by electric memory of past hurt, the reader confronts a reality that has been lurking in the background throughout a new life that was created out of necessity. In experiencing this juxtaposition of past with present, the reader can relax stress and gain a healthy renewal of faith in the future. Who could ask for more?
The writer has a serious responsibility in helping the reader achieve this level of personal truth. I encourage writers to explore ways to evoke past memories and help shape the reader's positive view of the future.
Review of this Article by Hilarie Roseman (Australia)
This Australian opinion is gained from three books:
Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore, (1987) New York:Vintage Books
Peter Carey, The True History of the Kelly Gang, (2000) University of Queensland Press
Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes, (1999)
As requested by Professor Bruce Cook, this is an opinion on the purpose of a fiction writer, and it deals, in part, with "exploring methods for relieving stress in education".
The goal of the writer, according to Cook, could be to evoke memories, and by evoking, to connect with the reader.
My very first response was that we all need fairy stories. We need to know who the bad people are, and we need to know that the hero and heroines can overcome their fear and come to some kind of successful conclusion. I immediately thought about the story of the film "The Sound of Music" – a story with a basis of truth, which showed how a whole family could escape from Hitler and survive. The songs from this film enable us, as a whole family, to join in and sing with them.
My second response was to think about the fiction books that I had recently read. Most of my reading has been done for my PhD, and when I made a list of 3 books that I wanted to write about, I could see that they indeed had deeply gone into not only my known memories, but somehow had touched on memories stored in my DNA. I had always known that I had a physical reaction when I heard one of those English Oxford Accents. The hairs jumped up on the back of my neck. Now I am from Ireland, and my father's family came to Australia in 1838. They came by boat and lost 4 of their children to measles and buried them at sea before they arrived in Hobart. Is there any evidence that the author of a book could be a grief counsellor?
Some years ago I was given a book by Peter Carey, "The True Story of the Kelly Gang" a fictional narrative of the bushranger Ned Kelly. It tells of the dreadful way that Kelly's mother and sister were treated by the police in those days at the beginning of the colonisation of Australia. I think I must have too much grief left in me, because I could not continue to read about the sexual harassment and terrible grief of that family. I know that he stood up to the police, and that his spirit is still with us, urging us to stand up, but I just could not continue to read on. You could say, according to Cook, that the story did not open "the door and the reader clearly sees the new reality in contrast with suppressed grief."
I could say the same for Angela's Ashes, which relates the story of an impoverished Irish family in detail. I have never been back to Ireland, but this portrait was so vivid that I only read a few chapters.
Finally, there is the book by Robert Hughes "The Fatal Shore". This tells the story of the convicts who were sent from England to Norfolk Island. It was described as a place that was inhuman, and worse, even if this is possible, than the terrible convict encampments in Hobart, Tasmania. I was able to finish this book, and afterwards I actually went to Norfolk Island, off the coast of NSW in Australia, and accessible from Sydney. I read all the stories on the many grave yard headstones, and remembered that conditions were so extremely violent that the prisoners used to take turns, with whoever took the shortest piece of wood, to kill one f their group and so escape the pain. I remember vividly that the Catholics would not do this, as their priests had said it was a sin to kill a person.
As Cook says, "Regardless of details, the narrative stands back as the emotion and memory which is normally shielded from expression bursts forth with new power" By some strange timing, it was at this moment that we found out the story of my mother's family. Most of them had died, mother had been looked after by the nuns in a NSW country town, and the history of the family was a closed book. But one of my daughters researched the name, and found that John Hore had been in the grand Irish rebellion on an English ship in 1795 and had been sent to Norfolk Island. After 15 years there he had been released and married a woman called Elizabeth Love. They married and had 10 children.
In conclusion, I would say that Cook is correct when he asks authors to look at exactly what kind of message they are going to pack up and slowly reveal to a reader. These books have opened to me the intense grief and humiliation and violence that went on for 600 years in Ireland, and which continued in Australia. There is a certain outcome in me from my ancestors, I have inherited a bit of that up and at them attitude – an attitude that helps one to survive under difficult conditions.
Copyright Hilarie Roseman PhD 29th December, 2014
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