Fiction is all about hope

One morning, as I was hiking the Monterey dunes, a homeless man arose from his sleeping bag in a hollow of sand and turned toward the sea. Young, with face bronzed by the sun, voice full of anguish, he stretched his arms toward the sea. “Sweet Monterey! Sweet Monterey!” The sun had slit open a cloud and turned black water silver. Fiction is all about hope.

In great fiction even the most despairing of stories leave a reader with hope. The English patient dies, but the reader is left enriched by his story of love. The wounded recover. Even if a character in a novel doesn’t recover you’re still inspired because you recognize in the story something of your own, and the human, condition. You’re full of ideas for great stories, inspired by ─ what ─ maybe the river of life flowing along a clogged passageway in a city of North Africa, Rue du Mechouar in Marrakech, say, or Mt. Shasta in northern California when a lenticular cloud barbs the summit. How, now, to tame those ideas?

When you write for the reader don’t look to what’s fashionable. What’s popular in fiction comes and goes. Look for a common element of our shared humanity, which is your story as well. Said short story writer, Flannery O’Connor, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” Here is where you write your story, which should not be construed as the idiotic maxim to write what you know. A writer doesn’t have to experience something to write about it; knowledge of the opposite sex does not require gender reassignment surgery nor does a story of murder require you kill. Break rule No. 2. Make your story the reader’s. Fiction is creation. Creation is hope.

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