Monday Motivation: The why’s that fiction pose

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog, Tips for Writers

A friend recently sent me a link to the acceptance speech given by the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, Olga Tokarczuk. It takes the form of a meditation on fiction, on truth and, along the way, on the possibility that the novel has been superseded by the mesmerising allure of the box set.

It’s a great read. You’ll find the link below, but whether you choose to read it or not, I’ve decided to cherrypick some of the ideas contained in it and think around them both for my own edification and, hopefully, your entertainment.

For instance, she points out that popular television series rely heavily on that old device, the cliff-hanger, to sharpen the audience’s thirst to know what comes next.

Nothing wrong with that, you say? Well, in her view, what comes next is far less interesting than why events unfolded in that way.

It’s a distinction we point out in our creative writing course: The king died and then the queen died, E.M Foster pointed out, is the hand that life deals us. The king died and then the queen died of grief, is a story, injecting meaning into those two events.

Fiction, Tokarczuk argues, makes sense of life, by looking for the connections between events, and for the links that bind human beings into the equations of mere existence.

“Life,” she told her Nobel audience, “is created by events, but it is only when we are able to interpret them, try to understand them and lend them meaning that they are transformed into experience.”

A whodunnit, that confines itself to that question, is simply a puzzle, interesting as all puzzles are, but of not much more significance than the crossword in today’s newspaper. But a whydunnit poses questions about meaning, and intention, and values, and judgement – and becomes at once something more than an account of a series of incidents.

The answers to the questions that literature poses aren’t found in Wikipedia. In fact, very often, the value of these questions lies simply in their role as spurs to reflection. After all, not all “why’s” have answers.

Which is a proposition I find oddly comforting.

Happy writing,


Read Tokarczuk’s full speech here

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