What is the purpose of fiction

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What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Triert » Mon Dec 04, 2017 1:10 pm

Is the purpose of fiction to provide an escape to reality or to try and emulate our own reality.

Frankly I think anyone trying to emulate our own reality will always fail, they're outright and completely dumb in their pursuit to properly explain how reality truly is. No attempt ever tried in that pursuit has ever been successful without eventually resorting straight back into escapist reality.

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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by chaoadventures » Mon Dec 04, 2017 11:49 pm

Using real life as a base stops your mind from immediately questioning the surrounding events, but too much makes everything bland.

To put this statement into perspective, compare an abstract art piece to a figurative 1800s painting.

Then compare both of them to a mid-2000s cartoon like Teen Titans or Ben 10.

Abstract has a focus on the artist's mind and immediate ideas, but isn't cemented into reality and immediately makes your mind try to deny it.

Figurative has a focus on capturing real life, but never actually gets it quite right.

Cartoons focus on the audience's attention, and never leave too far from either, as leaving the realm of realism would cause the audience to be disinterested, and too much makes people start to
pick out flaws.

Ultimately, realism is a tool, but not something you possess to control as a whole.

---

In other words, don't make things too real or unreal or they'll either fall on their face or be really, really, lame. There's simply no other choice than making it differ from reality somehow.

The point is to have FUNNNNNN.

...

And teaching morals.

Don't forget the people who do nothing but add morals to their fictional stories left and right for those who gain knowledge better that way or to bait-and-switch people who thought it'd just be fun.
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Mamkute » Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:39 am

Fiction can be both, simultaneously or simply attempting to be one or the other.

Fiction will not fully capture reality, but it isn't trying to. It tries to capture certain aspects, and drag them to the forefront of your attention. Perhaps in ways that are not possible by solely realistic.

For some reason the novel 1984 came to mind. Fiction, not exactly trying to be escapist or fun, but it is very much trying to sell a point about reality. Not the reality we live in now, but what could happen. And so it focuses on key aspects of reality, and what could happen.
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by chaoadventures » Tue Dec 05, 2017 6:30 am

I'm in the middle of reading 1984 for my English class right now so my immediate first reaction was:

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My second, more intellectual thought was, that it only took me about half a chapter and a pre-reading class lecture for me to deduce that book was going to teach a moral,
and that moral was going to be about how bad it is if you let this happen, that you shouldn't let this happen, and to put it lightly, that also you really messed up if you support this happening.

Definitely uses reality as a good way to represent what it wants to convey can't say it's pulling me in or anything though.
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by EvilPinkamina » Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:08 am

Trying to emulate our own reality and providing an escape from it aren't mutually exclusive concepts. You can read a book about a kid playing a video game in a space school and have an escape from reality while also reflecting on the true gravity of war and how many people have become almost desensitized to the true trauma and dehumanization it holds.
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Nano » Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:23 am

Invisible Man, Great Gatsby, Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Anthem, Catcher in the Rye, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, My Antonia, Pride and Prejudice, 1984, The Giver, and even Hamlet.

All great classics that we know of really have deep meanings and symbolism in a fictional world that is constructed to be either close to our world (In Huckleberry Finn's case for example, the world is a near perfect replica of how it was back then) or possible futures our world may have (Fahrenheit 451 has advanced technology that seems almost within our reach). They do indeed all teach a moral, but that's mostly the case with all classics we praise. We don't tend to value fiction on the level of these classics unless there's meaning to it. Otherwise, they're simply fun and entertaining novels to pick up and engross yourself in. The only real example I can think of when it comes to classic works of fiction without any true meaning would be Harry Potter. Most other books get the "flavor of the month" treatment.

Aside from that though these books do indeed try and emulate our reality. Some do indeed have an escapist reality, but a good chunk of these do not. I think a very good example would be Great Gatsby. In a world like Gatsby, everything may seem fine and dandy, but you can immediately tell from the first meeting with Gatsby that something isn't right, and it only gets more obvious the longer you go down the rabbit hole. There is no happy ending for anyone involved, unless you count the man who got away with murder. You never feel like you've escaped reality, but more escaped into a different world similar to ours where everything is unfair and people who dream big are snuffed out.
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Mamkute » Tue Dec 05, 2017 9:24 am

I agree with pretty much everything Nano has said. But
Nano wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:23 am
The only real example I can think of when it comes to classic works of fiction without any true meaning would be Harry Potter. Most other books get the "flavor of the month" treatment.
I take great exception to this. Harry Potter is not a classic yet (although I do think its well on its way though to becoming the next Narnia, and it certainly has stuck with the public more than Hunger Games, Twilight, and other teen novels) and I think its greatest downfall to becoming a classic is being written as a children's series over 7 books. That makes it kind of hard to pinpoint to the story of Harry Potter, and well, the plot is certainly more drawn out and less concise than major classics. And yes, its sizable time spent world building does put it strongly into a sort of escapist story.
But when it comes to meaning, Harry Potter is chock full. The entire story is about fighting a fantastical cult-ish KKK. Deathly Hallows goes into sizable depths on how a government can quickly become a Nazi-like regime. The earlier books, while starting slightly shallow, demonstrate latent racism in the community, and how that can grow into a monster. Dealing with death in a positive way is also a more subtle recurring idea through the series (becoming more blatant by the end.)
The argument could be made the meaning is a bit shallow (racism bad, love and friendship good) but the meaning is still there.
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Rajikaru » Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:34 pm

Not every fictional book needs a clear cut moral, and if that's all you look for in fiction, you'll miss a lot of the subtleties that add up to make fiction works so engrossing.

Fiction is simply a form of writing that's more popular because it can be written by literally anyone. If you're some random shmuck that writes a book about cooking recipes and you don't even know how to properly cook meat, you're not gonna go far, but fiction allows any person with any background to write a story they want, because it's not real. There's no specific reason why it exists besides it being an umbrella term for stories that aren't real.
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Nano » Tue Dec 05, 2017 11:21 pm

Mamkute wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 9:24 am
But when it comes to meaning, Harry Potter is chock full. The entire story is about fighting a fantastical cult-ish KKK. Deathly Hallows goes into sizable depths on how a government can quickly become a Nazi-like regime. The earlier books, while starting slightly shallow, demonstrate latent racism in the community, and how that can grow into a monster. Dealing with death in a positive way is also a more subtle recurring idea through the series (becoming more blatant by the end.)
The argument could be made the meaning is a bit shallow (racism bad, love and friendship good) but the meaning is still there.
I guess that's true, but I think what it suffers from is not having an overall meaning to its work. What I should've been saying instead of meaning is theme. There are tons of meanings and symbolism in Harry Potter, as well as many other classics. Yet, when I think of Harry Potter I can't think of a single overarching theme to it. A take away message above all other meanings expressed in it. I cannot deny that Harry Potter has a far deeper meaning further into the series and starts to touch on political issues, but I don't think I can really say that it has a theme that it wants readers to take away from it. What do you think?
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Rajikaru » Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:19 am

I'm not Mamkute but IMO the message of Harry Potter has always seemed to be that a magical world full of unusual and strange possibilities will still have some deep dark skeletons hidden in its closet, and not every community or society is perfect the way it is, but it's in your best interest to fight against the more negative aspects of the community and prove that everybody and every community has a place in the world.

And of course there's the Superman trope of Fight for Justice and What's Right
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Mamkute » Thu Dec 07, 2017 5:07 am

Spoilers for Harry Potter ahead.

Rajikaru gave a pretty good theme, and the idea of the wonderful world that is, deep down, kind of messed up, is not one that I had particularly thought of.
The truth. It is a disturbing and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.
-Dumbledore, Philosopher's Stone

I see what you mean Nano, and I kind of agree. Deeper themes only become particularly present towards the end, and it does kind of suffer from being 7 books of a children's series, especially with the first 3-ish being much more child-ish. have been re-listening to the audio books lately on my drives to work (just finished Goblet of Fire) and I think something less obvious than the central "racism=bad" conflict is the topic of death.

Deathly Hallows ties it all together, and is much more obvious, but the idea of calmly going towards death is present even in Philosopher's Stone, with Dumbledore at the end talking about Flammel and his acceptance of death.
After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.
-Dumbledore, Philosopher's Stone
Additionally, the mirror of Erised discusses Harry's deep seated wish to have a life with his parents. But he must move on. (And in Deathly Hallows, it is implied that Dumbledore most desired seeing the return of someone dear to him who has passed away. Also Snape has an unhealthy attachment to someone who has passed.)
Prisoner of Azkaban goes into Harry experiencing trauma from the Dementors due to him recalling his mother's dying words. It is even mentioned that he, morbidly, almost wants to hear her screams again. But he has to move on past that morbid desire, and fight on.
In Goblet of Fire, and in Half Blood Prince, we learn Voldemort's number one desire is immortality, contrasting quite obviously with the willing martyrdom of, Dumbledore, many who die in Deathly Hallows, and even eventually Harry.

Also, contrast the Philospher's Stone quote with the epitaph on the Potter's gravestone "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." Two very different views on death, an adventure or an enemy.


I am pretty sure there is a lot more material here to write some college level papers. I am also sure people have done so.
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Jeffery Mewtamer » Sat Dec 09, 2017 5:11 pm

Probable spoilers ahead.

And then Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, one of the greatest entries in the annals of Harry Potter fanfiction and a work I hope ascends to the ranks of the classics in time, completely turns the moral of the source material on its ear. That to truly master death requires not acceptance, but utter rejection of death. That Voldemort failed to beat death not because he refused to accept his own mortality, but because he sought only his own immortality and paid for it with the lives of others. That a true master of death would unlock the secrets to granting not only himself immortality, but of granting everyone immortality and unlocking the secrets of true resurrection. Where canon takes the Resurrection Stone as a cruel joke, the third brother as wise, and the Potters' epitaph as a metaphor for the afterlife, Harry Potter-Evans-Verrez takes the resurrection stone as an incomplete prototype, the second brother as the most wise, and the Potters' epitaph literally and as an expression of his birthright and duty to complete the work of the three brothers.

Back to Harry Potter itself, I agree with the notion that it is much too early to tell if it will ascend from an enduring work of popular culture to being an actual classic, but I'm not sure the Heptalogy structure alone dooms it from feeling like a coherent whole. Its debatable how much was planned from the beginning and how much was just Rowling being clever with retcons in later books, but the series does have a bit of an identity crisis, the first three books reading like Children's fantasy, the next three reading more like teen dramas, and the last feeling more dark fantasy written for cynical adults. Perhaps some shift in tone is appropriate for a series that actually lets the protagonist grow up, but the shift is so strong that you can't help wondering if Rowling was afraid she'd lose her original audience if she didn't shift the tone or always wanted to do the more serious tone but was afraid no one would be interested in a Dark Fantasy novel starring an 11-year-old.

I can't say if Harry Potter would've been made better by a consistent tone, but I hope if Rowling ever produces another opus of similar magnitude, that she's learned her lesson and that the result will feel more consistent and coherent.
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Ivogoji » Sat Dec 09, 2017 6:39 pm

Methods of Rationality is a bad self-insert fic written by a narcissistic wacko, Jeff.
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Crazo3077 » Sat Dec 09, 2017 7:12 pm

I like to look at the question by starting with what the category of fiction even means. It's just a way to classify stories or any collection of text (or other storytelling device) as not being real or explicitly fact-based. Thinking about what it isn't creates an outer shell, which separates material like history or science. We'd be inclined to say fiction is art, but does that make all art fiction? That might be a bit different of a conversation.

I think comparing it directly to art helps the most. Because then I can compare it to the counter argument to that whole "Why are the curtains blue?" question with paintings: it doesn't have to serve anything. Art can be created for just the sake of it being art, just as fiction can be written for the sake of just wanting to write something.

People can use fiction as an outlet for personal feeling to be received and/or delivered, but I don't think that's inherent. I think people can write with motivations no more complex than digging a hole or building a sand castle with no intention of sharing it with people or being acknowledged. Committing to elements of reality or not doesn't really change that.

I will say that trying to find deeper meaning and intention in art can be fun, but committing to it as fact without an author's confirmation is just disappointing. Like everyone has biases and limited information, so unless there was an explicit intention to extend a belief or position, I chalk those up as consequences of disposition before I assume there is some intent to set a moral standard. It's easy to see dystopian stories as having come kind of political reflection, but the reasons for the dystopia could equally just be filler to have an excuse to have a dystopian playground.

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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Triert » Sat Dec 09, 2017 8:44 pm

Is harry potter literally the only book ya'll read.

Where are the Mark Twain boys?

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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by EvilPinkamina » Sat Dec 09, 2017 9:56 pm

do visual novels count as books?
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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Triert » Sat Dec 09, 2017 10:04 pm

go away you're not allowed in my topic anymore

yes

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Re: What is the purpose of fiction

Post by Jeffery Mewtamer » Sun Dec 10, 2017 3:08 pm

Harry Potter is easily the most popular work of British Fantasy written in my Lifetime, and possibly the most popular work in any two of those three categories, so it isn't surprising that it would come up in a general discussion of fiction, in fact, it might have even been inevitable. Though, considering how much people talk about whether it will become a classic, I find myself wondering how many works considered classics today were actually popular when they were first released and if there's any actual correlation between popularity during the author's lifetime and canonization upon entering the public domain. Also makes me wonder how many, for lack of a better term, young classics, those works considered classics but who still have living members of their original audience or haven't yet reached the public domain under the current lifetime+70 rule will actually endure.

As to Ivo's comment on HPMOR, I don't really have a strong opinion of Eliezer Yudkowsky as a person, so I can't really comment on most of that statement, though I get the impression he's a somewhat controversial figure in the Rationalist Community despite being a major figure therein, though granted, Rationalists are a bit of an eccentric bunch from what I've gathered from the Internet. That said, I've enjoyed his other fiction as well as what I've read of his writings on such subjects as cognitive biases, Baye's Theorem, AI safety, writing smart characters, among other things.

As to the original question, a work of fiction need satisfy no greater purpose than increasing the author's utility, be that the author's enjoyment, helping them put their thoughts in order, helping improve their writing skills, as a means of generating income, or anything else that might motivate an author. That said, if a work of fiction can increase the utility of others, be it through entertainment, teaching one or more lessons, inspiring others to pick up the pen or paintbrush, or something else, all the better for the work and the world, and just because a work does nothing for my own utility doesn't mean it won't do a lot for a billion other's utility.

As for Mark Twain, I don't think I've ever read any of his work outside of class, but I have audiobooks of both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn sitting in my Amazon shopping cart. Will probably be a while before I order them though, as I've got a more than a hundred CDs worth of Audiobooks queued on my portable media player as is, not to mention over a dozen queued LN eBooks, a couple hundred episodes of queued anime, and a few million words of fanfic bookmarked in my Reading List folder. So yeah, he's on my "read eventually" list, but I'm trying to make a dent in the stuff I've already bought/downloaded/can read for free online before I go blowing my limited funds on thinning my Amazon Cart's media selections.
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