Objectivity seems to have become a term, an idea, which has fallen by the wayside in favour of opinion. In North America, whether we’re talking about the United States or Canada at least, we see freedom of speech as an invitation to voice our opinion, no matter what it may be. Politics? We’ve got an opinion. The new Batman movie? You better bet we’ve got an opinion. What about fiction? I don’t mean your opinion as a reader though, but as a writer. Opinion, it seems to this newbie writer, has seeped into fiction, transforming good stories into diatribe.
Ten years ago I entered a journalism program at collage where we often discussed objectivity. A journalist’s primary goal is to present the news with an unbiased voice, coming at the subject from somewhere in the middle. Seemed to me like an excellent goal; present the facts and let the reader come to their own conclusions. That, to me, is the power of objectivity; to let your audience think for themselves. Unfortunately, from what I’ve read, journalism, at least when it comes to the major news outlets (here in Ontario, Canada, I’m specifically talking about the Toronto Sun and the Toronto Star), opinion and agenda seem to take precedence now.
The same can be said for fiction. Specifically, in this article, fantasy fiction.
Now, I’ve been reading fantasy since I was about fifteen, so, half my life, and in the beginning was satisfied with works such as Lord of the Rings and any number of Dungeons and Dragons fiction. I was becoming a huge R. A. Salvatore fan and should admit that I still enjoy reading his work from time to time. Then I read a little known novel at the time called; Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson (who some of you may know from this very site) and something changed for me.
In reading the first novel of the Malazan book of the Fallen, I found a world that was not black and white. A world where it became increasingly difficult to see who was the bad guy and who was the good guy. I didn’t know it at the time, but it had sparked a part of me that, years later, has become one of the things that I define myself by. Objectivity.
Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t suffer from my own opinion. Far from it in fact. I am a human, therefore I have opinions on all kinds of things. Even those I really have no right to. For example; when it comes to a controversial subject like abortion, I am pro-choice and will defend that opinion whole heartedly, but the truth is, I’m not a woman. How can I have a true and insightful opinion on such a topic?
But, objectivity is something that I strive to bring to my writing. Unfortunately, I write fantasy fiction, which is subject to a trap. The trap of opinion and agenda. Look at Lord of the Rings for instance; It’s a story of nature versus industrialization, with our heroes representing the traditional ‘old way’, and Mordor representing the ‘evil’ new ways. The problem here is that our beloved heroes stop being people and become tools. Tools to drive home a point, to feed us an opinion. This way is right, and that way is wrong. If you disagree, then you’re no better than the Dark Lord himself.
When a writer bases their fiction on their own personal opinions, they end up using the craft in a way to justify their own personal beliefs, ideals and morals. The heroes possess those same morals and ideals, while the villains hold to the exact opposite. Themes become weaponized and polarizing, with the intent to convince the audience, instead of allowing them to form their own opinion.
What I’m saying is this; forget right and wrong, they are relative. Good vs Evil is a theme that has very few avenues for exploration, very few corners that we can shed light upon. For myself, in my own writing, I look to come at things from the middle. I sit on the fence and try to get as good a look at both sides as I can and if I think that there is something worth exploring on one side, I’ll hop down and take a look and then present my findings.
As an aspirating novelist (a term I currently hate to have to live with) I really have one goal; to tell the best story I can in a way that will let the reader decide what to make of it. I look to tell the story of people on both sides of a conflict, find out what their justification is for their actions and what steps in their life brought them to their current position. Fiction is about exploration, not idealization. Give me a story, not a lesson. I can figure it out for myself and I’m banking on the fact that just about everyone else can as well, given the chance.
So take that as you will, because it’s just an opinion, not a fact.
Gardens Of The Moon Book Cover © Steven Erikson – All Rights Reserved
Thumbnail – Sven Littkowski – Scenes – Space 022d – Space Carrier “Seneca” – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Guest Author Bio
Marshall is an aspiring novelist and writer, who stops by to offer his thoughts, opinions and musings, hoping to share and even gain a little bit of perspective. He is married (to a wonderful woman), lives in South Central Ontario and may or may not have a small addiction to video games.
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