When you write, do you try to tell a story, or teach a lesson? Is it possible to do both?
There is a passage in Ian McEwan's Atonement, where young Briony, an aspiring author herself, contemplates this question. She concludes: "There did not have to be a moral. She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive. It wasn't only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. That was the only moral a story need have."
But here's the rub: When you create fictional characters in a fictional world, is this in any way a true representation or different minds in the real world? The more I study fiction writing, the more I realize that fictional characters aren't supposed to act like real people. In fact, in Scene and Structure, Jack Bickham states that "fiction must make more sense than real life," and that involves creating characters who, to some extent, make sense also.
But do people make sense? Kant wrote that "We can never, even by the strictest examination, get completely behind the secret springs of action." In The Social Animal, David Brooks describes our attempt to define our character in life as virtually impossible. Instead, life is a series of fragmented events, where we are sometimes motivated by ambition, money, etc., and sometimes not. We wear different masks, but is there a true self beneath these masks?
Sebastian Faulks wrote "Books explain the real world." Do they? Or do they just explain the world we'd like to believe in?