I Have a Theory….

“Theory can be quite useful, and can even be fun, and can probably get you published, but sooner or later you have to read the damn books.” – Gary K. Wolfe

Change only one or two words and this, aimed at critics and academics, applies to writers just as well. Anyway, the subject of theory as applied to fiction was somewhat on my mind, mostly as a conscious consideration of a failure of mine.  Confession time–I’m rather weak on writing theory. I’m not proud of that–that’s just the way it is. I have only a vague idea of what “modern” and “post-modern” are and most discussions of “interstitial” fiction leave me either bemused or bewildered, depending on my mood. In neither case can I quite wrap my head around exactly what, if anything, these terms have to do with getting stories written.

Before you start thinking that this is going to turn into some sort of anti-intellectual screed, that’s not it. I’d like to understand the theory aspect of the craft better than I do. I have nothing against being opinionated–shocker, right?– but one thing that really ticks me off is an uninformed opinion. Especially when it’s my own. I mean, I even attempted Farah Mendelsohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy but had to give up after my eyes glazed over for the umpteenth time. My failing, I hasten to add, not hers. The truth is that I’ll never be an academic writer and I’m fine with that. I don’t teach writing, so explaining different traditions or taxonomic entities is never an issue. Good thing, too.

Even so, and allowing for that one regret, the reason I’m okay with this state of affairs is that  I’m still of the belief that qualifying what we do—aside from basic marketing–is not our job. Per the quote above, it can be fun as an intellectual exercise, and perhaps provide some insight into the process, which is always useful. Yet even Ursula Le Guin, no slouch in the theory department, once used the analogy that if you want to learn about an ocean, you go to sailors and oceanographers and chemists and marine biologists, etc. You don’t ask the ocean, because all the ocean says is “gurgle gurgle, whoosh whoosh.” As with the ocean, we just need to do what we do.

Explaining it is another department.

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