Writing fiction is just elaborate lying

You might have heard this before: writing a work of fiction is simply constructing an elaborate lie. Usually meant as a denigration, as in, why waste your time lying, when you could be writing non-fiction? You know, the truth? Not lies? In this view, fiction is a pointless game, and those who practise it are shallow and vapid, unlike the serious purveyors of non-fiction, who are engaged with the real world and its real problems.

This is wrong on so many levels. In the first place, on a purely technical standpoint, the primary intention of the liar is to deceive, but the reader of a work of fiction knows very well that what she is reading is a creation, and not a representation of actual events. In fact, many works that are nominally non-fiction are constructed to deceive. A liar doesn’t start off by telling you he is lying; therefore only non-fiction can be a lie!

Secondly, written fiction, like all art, tries to tell us a deeper truth about the world and ourselves. If it is well done, if the artist succeeds, we will recognise that deeper truth, conveyed to us by means of artifice. This, again, is the opposite of lying, where the aim is to convey a deep falsehood by means of superficial verisimilitude. The techniques might appear similar; both writer and liar will carefully observe reality so as to convey a plausible narrative; but then, to the untrained eye, the techniques of the surgeon and the butcher might appear similar. As with the writer and the liar, however, the surgeon is aiming for a very different outcome than that of the butcher.

And finally, the writer of what is nominally non-fiction is still engaged in a process of artifice; she does not aim to produce an emotionless recounting of facts as if she were a robot (and even if she did, there would still be the matter of choosing which facts to recount!). Most non-fiction writing is designed to be read (in the sense of needing to compete for the attention of readers) and therefore strives to entertain and sometimes to persuade, and these goals are at least somewhat antithetical to pure objective truth.

Our love of stories is perhaps one of the defining characteristics of our species. Every culture ever known since the dawn of time has told its stories. There seems to be some structure of the brain where if we are given a series of events, we naturally try to construct a narrative that ties the events together and explains them– even if the events are entirely random. This instinct to create structure out of chaos may be the legacy of a successful evolutionary strategy, and thus entirely practical– if our ancestors created a fanciful story about a natural phenomenon that enabled them to correctly predict when that phenomenon would occur, then they would be more likely to survive. And perhaps the compelling story made it easier for an unlettered culture to remember it and pass it on to future generations.

We no longer need to create myths and legends to pass on our knowledge, and so the anti-fiction brigade would have you believe that fiction’s time has passed. But our culture is more than just scientific facts. Our thirst for stories remains undimmed. The stories which resonate with us are passed on by word of mouth until millions share the myths of Hogwarts, the Discworld, and Westeros. And that is no bad thing.

More on Airship City and Wattpad

So a couple of months since Airship City was featured on Wattpad, and it’s received an astonishing 55,000 reads and nearly 2,000 votes. There have been over 100 comments, almost all positive. The attention seems to have spilled over to my short story Airship Stowaway, which is set in the same Aeropolis universe, and has nearly 4,000 reads and nearly 200 votes, which interestingly is far more than my other stories, and shows, I suppose, why writers like a series!

I am truly heartened by the positive attention that Airship City has received on Wattpad. I think it shows that people do like and respond to what I have written, if they get the chance to see it. Being featured has enabled it to get noticed, which is half the battle. (Obviously the other half is to write something worth reading in the first place.) Now if only there were some way to get featured on Amazon...

The introduction of paper

A CAVEMAN and a CAVEWOMAN are sitting on stones, huddled around a fire. They are dressed in animal fur clothing. The Caveman is reading a stone slab propped up in front of him.

I'm worried about this new thing that Junior's been using recently.
Oh? Worried about what in particular?
Well, he's been spending a lot of time using it, instead of working on his stone letter carving and his cave painting.
Hmmm, that is concerning. What is this new thing?
It's called "paper". It's made by a bunch of weirdos in the next valley.
"Paper?" Never heard of it. It's not made by that fruity tribe, is it?
Yes, that's the one. They're always thinking different.
(shakes his head)
Why can't people just respect tradition?

Just then Junior walks into the cave. He's wearing a fur hat that flops over behind his head, and elaborate leather sandals. A leather messenger bag is over his shoulder.

Oh, hello, son! We were just talking about you.
Really? What about?
Well, your mother was telling me about this new "paper" stuff you've been using.
(lights up)
Oh yeah! Dad, it's amazing! I love it!
(He strides over to his parents, pulling a few sheets of paper from his messenger bag)
Look! Here's something I've been working on.

The Caveman takes the sheets from his son's hand, a dubious look on his face. He squints down at them.

So this is it, is it? Paper? Not very heavy, is it?
(still enthusiastic)
No, it's light as a feather! It's just brilliant, Dad, I could carry sheets and sheets of it to school, and they would still weigh much less than a slab.
(hand over her mouth)
Oh, you don't use it at school, do you? What do your teachers say?
(turning to her)
Well, they don't really know what to make of it, to be honest. Some of them seem to like it.

The Cavewoman shakes her head and rolls her eyes. Junior looks at her in confusion.

But wait a minute. How do you expect to grow up big and strong if you don't carry slabs of stone around? I have to say I don't like this at all.
Hah! That's the least of your worries. Wait till you see this.
(to her son)
Show your father what you use to write on the paper.

Junior frowns, and takes a thin stick of charcoal out of his messenger bag. He hands it silently to his father.

What? You don't use a hammer and chisel? How on earth do you expect to develop big strong fingers? Why, if you used this to write all the time, I'd be surprised if your fingers didn't wither away and fall off!
God forbid! And another thing, staring at that whiteness can't be good for your eyes. At least stone has a soothing greyness.
(turns to her husband)
And because it's so light and easy to handle, he can switch from one piece of paper to another as easily as you can imagine. Without the discipline of having to move heavy stone slabs around, he can just flit from reading one thing to another in seconds. What it could be doing to his brain I can't imagine.

Junior looks flabbergasted.

But but what you're saying makes no sense!
Don't you talk to your mother like that!
(he gesticulates with the paper in his hand. Unfortunately the paper touches the fire, and promptly bursts into flame)
Oh my God!
(he throws the paper on the floor of the cave)
It burns! Slabs would never do that! This stuff is unbelievably dangerous!
(dashes to rescue the burning paper)
My work! My writing! My drawings!

His father grabs him roughly and drags him off the burning paper.

What are you doing? Are you mad? You'll hurt yourself or worse!
(to his wife)
I think you're right, this awful stuff has driven him insane. I've seen enough. From now on, paper is banned in this cave.

Junior sits weeping on the floor.



Airship City is a Featured Story on Wattpad

So a little while ago Wattpad wrote to let me know that Airship City would become a Featured Story on Wattpad. A few days ago it went live on the Featured Stories page, and since then reads and follows have simply exploded. It took ages to get to 1,000 reads before it was Featured, but since then it has clocked up more than 17,000 reads, and will probably have even more by the time you read this. I’ve massively increased my follower count as well.

All of which is immensely gratifying, of course, not just because Airship City is being read and enjoyed, but also because of the lovely comments that some kind readers have left. So I’m quite pleased that I took the time to get involved at Wattpad!

Airship Stowaway

I’ve been steadily adding to my short story set in the Aeropolis universe. It’s called Airship Stowaway and I’ve been posting it up on Wattpad. Some of it is repurposed stuff from an early draft of Airship City, then called Aeropolis, and if you have read Airship City and want to read some more, here is your chance! When it’s done I will publish it properly on Kindle, but for now you can read along on Wattpad.


A few updates

A few quick updates:

1. I’ve uploaded a full ePub file of Airship City to Goodreads. So if you’re on Goodreads, you can read the entire book online, or even download it. If you have read and enjoyed it, please consider rating or reviewing it! Airship City on Goodreads.

2. I’m also posting the entire novel up onto Wattpad, a chapter per day. So if you’re on Wattpad, you might find it more convenient to read there.

3. If you can’t be bothered with all this and just want the convenience of the Kindle edition, it’s currently on promotion for a lot less than you might think! Airship City on Amazon

4. Finally, just wanted to let you know about a great online resource for airship information— a real treasure trove. Airships.net

Update on the Wattpad thing

Thought I’d give a quick update on the Wattpad experiment. As you might remember, I decided to put some stuff up on Wattpad, the free online reading community... thing. This is my page.

Now Wattpad isn’t the easiest thing to work out. It has a very “young” feel to it— lots of One Direction fan fiction. And some of the stuff with the most “reads” and “votes” seems not all that well-written, if I’m honest. And the inevitable system of followers and votes seems like yet another social network mountain to climb. Read More...

How to write a review

Reviews are the lifeblood of book sales on Amazon. The more reviews your books have, the more this “social proof” will persuade potential readers to buy them. It’s a simple psychological fact: when lots of other people like something, you are more likely to consider it than if no-one has shown any interest.

But reviews are hard to get. You give out free books to people, and they somehow never get around to writing a review like they promised. You have free promotions on Amazon with hundreds of downloads... and no reviews. It’s frustrating. Read More...