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I'm son to two philosophers, and maybe this shaped too much my way of understanding the world. I think a lot, or maybe thinking means a lot to me. And, mainly, I think about art questions and art philosophy. I was educated in this way I now abhor, rationalising everything so I can make living things thinkable, philosophical, conceptual.

The problem is, I want to write fiction. And maybe nothing is farther from fiction than philosophy, which is trying to enlighten the world instead of maintaining the mystery where fiction and life dwell. I feel this way, but I am practically unable to write fiction since everything I write feels too philosophical or can be criticised in philosophical categories by me.

Lots of artists like Artaud, Brecht, or Pirandello have extensive work on philosophical questions which gave birth to lots of essays. So I don't get why I shouldn't be able to write fiction if they did both write philosophy and literature. But the doubt stands because I can't get to write something that really satisfies me.

My question is: Is there any hope I will be able to write fiction?

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    I think you're operating on a level which most people would call "overthinking it". Read more fiction - not just literary fiction, get a good look at "genre" - and then decide what you want to do and for what audience. – pjc50 May 28 '18 at 9:01
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    Just to point out something that you've missed: Your repeated apologies and filler text was a much bigger obstacle to read this question than any potential mistake would have been. The actual meat of the question is <5 sentences. You've shot yourself in the foot here :) Just ask your question without already layering it in disclaimers in case someone criticizes your question. Or, at the very least, separate your disclaimer from your actual question instead of weaving them together, which could also help you see that your disclaimer is disproportionately large compared to your question. – Flater May 28 '18 at 10:56
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    By posting this question here you have become a critic. Even though your worst fear came to be. Have no worries, we all are critics and we cannot avoid being so. It is in our very nature – Totumus Maximus May 28 '18 at 15:38
  • One way to write short fiction, at least, is to simply describe an event. Then, as you're describing it, have the plot take unexpected twists. You don't even think of them until you get to that point in the story, so no "philosophy" is involved -- just nutty thoughts. – Hot Licks May 28 '18 at 22:22
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And maybe nothing is farther from fiction than philosophy, which thinks that is saying something about the world, which is trying to enlighten the world instead of mainting the mistery where fiction and life dwell.

Your problem is not fiction, it's your idea of philosophy. You oppose it to life, feel encage within it and try to figure a way to escape from it. You thought about writing fiction, but you cannot see any issue, philosophy is still on this way.

But every serious philosopher - I mean serious about life, not philosophy - knows that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Philosophy is fiction. And good fiction, as well as good philosophy, enlight a part of the mystery.

  • @h4ml3t I think that Ms Mourey is wrong about any serious philosophy; it certainly should be meant as a sincere attempt to approach Truth. Even when arguing beliefs such as socially-constructed truth, the argument should come from a belief that such is the actual nature of Truth as understandable in human civilization. It's hardly fictional, except insofar as it's insincere piety meant to please authorities or insincere contrarianism meant to interest publishers. – lly May 30 '18 at 6:51
  • @h4ml3t That said, she's right to notice that your dissatisfaction comes from a misunderstanding of terms you picked up from society. Fiction is not necessarily obscuritanist mysticism whose meaning should vary unpredictably from reader to reader; philosophy should be love of wisdom, not esoterica, and should be able to express its discoveries in prose about human life, not just equations of multiworld modal logic. – lly May 30 '18 at 6:57
  • @lly I'm Mr Mourey, not Ms. – Stéphane Mourey May 30 '18 at 14:04
  • @lly I conceive fiction as a way to attempt to approach Truth, at least some sort of truth. Lower case, suits me better, to avoid some Plato-like approach. And, sincerely, I'm serious about both, fiction and philosophy to enlight a part of the mystery. – Stéphane Mourey May 30 '18 at 14:26
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I don't think philosophy and fiction are really opposites. The difference is that in fiction, you don't describe the philosophy, you show its consequences.

For example, if your philosophy includes the claim that whatever bad you do, will come back to haunt you, then in a philosophical essay you'd just write that, and give arguments why it should be true. In fiction, on the other hand, you'd write about someone who does something bad, and then it comes back to haunt the protagonist.

Or more generally, if your philosophy says that the greatest goal in life is X, and to reach it, you should do Y, then you could write about a character who first strives for the wrong goal and doesn't get happy. Then after realizing that striving for X is the right thing to do, the protagonist tries to achieve it all the wrong ways and doesn't succeed. Then, finally, the protagonist tries Y, reaches X, and all is good.

If your philosophy include the idea that you cannot escape your fate, you write about a protagonists who try to escape fate and fail, until they finally accept their fate.

If, on the other hand, your philosophy is that you have your fortune in your hands, your proponent will go the other way round, starting as someone who thinks the whole world is against him and he has no chance anyway, until he learns how to take his life in his own hands and succeeds.

Of course there are many more possibilities here, but I think you get the idea.

Indeed, one might even see such fiction as “test bed” for a philosophy: If you cannot write a coherent and convincing story following the philosophy, there might be something wrong with that philosophy. And the story might highlight exactly where the problems with it are.

And in that case you might still get a great story by showing how that particular philosophy fails if you try to apply it to real life.

  • Well, this is definitely the truth of the matter. Just to throw in some concrete examples for @h4ml3t, the dominant philosophical form into early modernity was the dialogue among teacher and student (e.g. Plato) or adherents of various schools (e.g. Malebranche). Philosophical drama (e.g. Sartre) works much the same way. Philosophical fiction can be entirely didactic with enormous speeches leaving very little unclear (e.g. Ayn Rand), be left almost entirely opaque by those who care more about process and mood than exactitude (e.g. Lynch), or be anywhere between (most good literature). – lly May 30 '18 at 7:20
  • Apart from philosophical playwrights like Beckett and Stoppard, I'd say some particular success stories at combining good writing with big ideas are British humorists (Monty Python, Prachett, & Adams); Russian novelists (Dostoevsky); and Hermann Hesse. – lly May 30 '18 at 7:30
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Fiction writers (like me) portray a problem and a resolution (good or bad), usually for a main character (MC). In the process, we strive to create emotions in the reader ABOUT that character; so the reader can identify with her, root for her, and celebrate (or grieve) when she wins (or loses).

To the extent we all have our own philosophies of life and what it is about, your MC can have them, and argue them with another character, that argues their own contending philosophy.

So yes, if you want to argue philosophical points, you can. Be aware that what is entertaining in fiction is mostly conflict, as perceived by the reader, which is any time the world or other people is not doing what your MC wants or needs, or your reader knows is not going to end well for a character. To put it simply, people keep reading when they want to know what happens next; i.e. out of anticipation of the unknown.

At times anticipation alone is enough: even the the characters are not conflicted (meaning they are certain in their actions and beliefs and not encountering problems to overcome); the reader may be driven to turn the pages in anticipation of what comes next, especially if the author has given the reader (and not the characters) reason to be much less certain than the characters that their plan would fail miserably.

"Well, that makes it simple!" Julie said. "We must go to Travix first, and find this wizard Zelof there. Right?"

"Absolutely," Karen said, and stood up from the table. "Gather your gear, we've been riding away from it for a week, and must make haste."

Unfortunately for both, they couldn't know Zelof had been dead for days.

So, though Julie and Karen are certain, the reader's anticipation (if the stakes are high enough and this puts their goals in jeopardy) will make them want to read on; to find out what happens when they fail.

But back to philosophy: There are many things that drive characters. Most of these things (love, lust, greed, a desire for safety, success, fame, financial security) are not very philosophical, just emotional. But real people do have philosophies of life that underly some of their decisions, and can conflict with the philosophy of others.

I can write a logical character that does not believe any rapist can be redeemed, and they should all be put to death, and if the State won't do it then by Freya she will.

So yes, some form of [philosophy / religion / beliefs] can drive a character and the plot, a conflicting set of beliefs in another character can drive another character and their opposition.

The First Job of the Writer is to Entertain.

Readers are entertained by wanting to know what happens next. That requires both action (things happening, things being done) and emotional involvement.

A treatise on how you believe the world works and people should behave is not a story; infodumps are not stories, philosophical arguments are not stories. Stories demand a character with a problem they want to solve, and the reader wants them to solve. You can weave a philosophical argument into a story, but (like everything else in the story) you should not do that unless the ramifications of that philosophy actually has consequences for the character and their actions and emotional attachments.

For example, you can tell me Bill is an atheist. But if it doesn't change anything, it (by definition) does not make any difference! Now if Bill is an atheist in love with Karen, but Karen is devout, and he loses Karen when she finds out: Now Bill's atheism has made a difference in his life, and Karen's devotion to her religion has made a difference in hers. Now it matters that Bill is an atheist.

What you write about characters (and to a good extent what you write about physical and cultural setting) should make a difference in the story, it should influence the plot and actions. It is possible to meet that constraint while characters discuss (or contest) various philosophical points.

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I am going to start by disagreeing with @Amadeus. The first job of a writer is not to entertain. At least, not necessarily. I don't think anyone reads All Quiet on the Western Front, or The Old Man and the Sea, or Crime and Punishment and goes "Ooh, that was entertaining". The works we call "literary masterpieces" are not the ones which possess in most abundance qualities like "fun", "diverting" and "providing entertainment".

Victor Hugo and Lev Tolstoy are quite notorious for digressing from the story they're telling into lengthy treatises on history, philosophy and sociology. Boris Pasternak presented philosophical thought as musings of a character, or discussion between characters, not directly related to the unfolding story (and yet the story is meaningless without them). You mention yourself Bertolt Brecht. So yes, you very much can engage with philosophy in your writing.

That said, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and the rest of them are hardly easy to read. Their saving grace is that their philosophy and history discussions are fascinating in themselves, not dry reading. I don't know if it's true that the modern reader expects more entertainment, faster pacing etc., or simply that today more people have the luxury of having both access to books and leisure to read, where in the past those people would not be reading at all. But it is true, as @Amadeus and @celtschk point out, that if you hide the philosophy inside the story, your books would be more accessible.

Should you strive to be more accessible? That's your choice. I believe there is room for works that make you stop and think, as well as room for Hollywood blockbusters.

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    Thinking is entertainment. Even a tragedy is an entertainment. If we enjoy it, it is an entertainment. Good luck, in the modern world, selling a novel that most people do not enjoy reading. – Amadeus May 27 '18 at 14:05
  • @Amadeus "Enjoy" isn't quite the right word sometimes. If a novel leaves you wrung with sorrow, would you say you "enjoyed" it? In some sense I suppose that yes, but in another, the word has always struck me as inadequate. And one hardly writes a tragedy for people to "enjoy" - rather to think and feel something. But yes, I agree that a novel shouldn't be boring. Absolutely. I guess it's like this: I enjoy an ice-cream, but it doesn't impact me in any way (other than making me fat). From a book, I expect impact. If it's like an ice-cream, it's a waste of time. – Galastel May 27 '18 at 17:19
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    Yes, I would say I enjoyed books that made me cry. To me, anything one undertakes voluntarily and could equally skip without any guilt is part of entertainment, and (outside of school) nobody is obligated to crack a novel, or finish it, thus any novel I finish, that I think reached a satisfactory ending, is under the umbrella of entertainment. And so, btw, is "wasting time"! The notion that every moment must be "productive" in some way is a dangerous mental disease infecting millions. A book that is just fun to read and makes me laugh and teaches me nothing is a joy. Seconds, please! – Amadeus May 27 '18 at 18:02
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My answer basically agrees with @Amadeus, but I want to emphasize the relation between fiction, nonfiction, and philosophy.

Nonfiction (science) writing is the farthest from fiction (obviously). Philosophy is not necessarily nonfiction. In some regards, philosophy is like fiction, ie. what axioms are assumed come from one's thoughts/beliefs much like purposeful fiction. Of course, philosophy is more about logical reasoning than telling a story and philosophy is meant to answer questions (or more specifically, provide a possible answer based on assumptions and logic).

Something to note is that good fiction also obeys logic through world and character building. Writing quality logic in nonfiction works can improve your logic in fiction writing.

Philosophical essays typically use a formal structure and direct logic, but --as you noted-- not always. Heidegger was very poetic in his writing, and there are also dialogues, such as Plato's works, that express the reasoning.

As @Amadeus said, fiction is mostly for entertainment. Whether that entertainment brings joy, sorrow, or whatever doesn't matter. It's still entertainment. I'll read and enjoy plenty of tragedies if they move me and expand my horizons.

That last sentence is the focus of this answer. There is a connection between philosophy and fiction, or at least there can be. For me, I love stories because it introduces new concepts into my life and I witness characters interacting in ways I may not have seen people do so before. It increases my awareness of certain things, inspires me, and teaches/reveals things too. Philosophy accomplishes the same goals for me as well: I learn new concepts, thinking/reasoning patterns, and understand how people think.

Good fiction, imho, not only entertains but also carries a message. That message is either in part or entirely a philosophy. You could think of fiction as a different way of expressing philosophy. Some philosophers were artistic (ie. Heidegger and Plato).

There are many nonfiction people who write or do art, and so I would not worry if I were you. All of these things simply take practice and understanding. Keep writing and experimenting.

As an example, I have written nonfiction scientific articles, philosophical essays, and fiction, and I also enjoy drawing/sketching and making music. Granted my works are not the greatest, but practice makes perfect. I am certain you could write great fiction as well as other works.

You state you fear becoming a critic. This depends on what you mean by that, but in my opinion, I believe good writers and artists are/should always be critics. By critic here, I mean a constructive critic. One with a good eye in the craft to spot what nuances affect certain things, like the affect of word choice or including a scene in a story. You do not have to be a critic in the negative sense where you either look down at other's work or tear people's choices apart mercilessly. Given your fear of being a critic and if that negative connotation of critic is what you mean, then I doubt you'll become that. I also encourage you and every writer to seek and give constructive criticism. It helps all parties involved grow to be better writers and to understand the craft more.


tl;dr

You can most definitely write philosophical essays, nonfiction works, and fiction. I have done so, as have others who have written more and admittedly with better quality in all 3 types than myself. To write works you are proud of and that others appreciate will take practice. Always seek and give constructive criticism to improve your writing and understanding.

Also, these writing types can overlap. Fiction can be used to express philosophy and also teach nonfiction (ie. commerce, science). Of course there is varying levels of coverage and quality, but it is still possible. Writing in one will help to some degree in writing the others.

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My question is: is there are any hope I will be able to write fiction? Or am I just lying myself with delusions?

It would be hard, I think, for anyone to answer the question for you personally. But you're aware that such authors exist. Perhaps one place to start to answer these questions is to ask them rather than StackExchange?

In addition to the authors you mentioned, there is a collection of essays by C. S. Lewis, On Stories that's accessible and worth adding to your conversation.

  • Welcome to Writers.SE. Make sure you take the tour. – JP Chapleau May 28 '18 at 12:53
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Being able to write both fiction and philosophy is relatively easy compared to being able to write them both well.

Critical thinking is a necessary feedback mechanism in improving your own writing. If you're never satisfied with what you write, at least you're striving to improve. A classic dilemma for writers and artists is how to know when something is finished, because there is always room for improvement.

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The answer to your problem is, I think, write philosophical fiction. Philosophy deals with a lot of abstract concepts which are already defined in a technical sense. But literature is full of characters, events, places, situations, and actions. Show don't tell, as it's said in literature. Do not write your appraisal of the world. Let the characters experience troubles and situations and then let it flow from their mouth in the form of a dialogue. Before you know it, you'll have written a classic!

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Some philosophers have been great writers (in fact, most of the existentialists are). Sartre and Camus produced some fantastic literature (No Exit, The Plague) and Kierkegaard's library of fictionalized alter-egos have inspired quite a library of books and movies. From older traditions, Plato was also a superb writer, and Chuang-Tzu is a fantastic storyteller. Meanwhile, the list of great writers who have infused philosophical concerns into their work is nearly endless (Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Robert Heinlein, Samuel Delany, Zora Neale Hurston, Mary Shelley, C.S. Lewis, to name just a few). So there's nothing intrinsically stopping a philosopher from writing well.

Given that, can we refine the problem you're actually facing? I see two possibilities:

  • Your particular philosophical background is not well matched to fiction. If that's the case, you might want to expose yourself to other schools of philosophy (potentially ones quite different from the ones your parents embraced). As alluded to above, existentialism might be a good bet.

  • You're just not that great a writer (yet). It may seem like your philosophy is overwhelming your story, but maybe it's just that your plots are thin, your characters two dimensional, your dialogue wooden, and your descriptions unconvincing --in other words, the same range of challenges every other writer must overcome. If you work on your writing skills, it's possible you might eventually find that your philosophical background is an asset, not a demerit.

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