by Samuel Marzioli
Philosophy is given a bad rap. It’s often considered an outdated approach to finding truth that was made obsolete by the scientific method. But, in fact, philosophy is still an integral part of the human experience. Whenever someone probes the questions of life, the universe and--oh, why not--everything, they’ve entered the domain of the philosopher. It underlies every important field of inquiry and creative endeavor, from science, to art, to education, and even fiction.
As far as fiction goes, a healthy dose of philosophy can often separate the forgettable fluff from a true masterpiece. While we may be fascinated by scenes of blazing guns and magnificent explosions, set in far-flung worlds or distant times, in the end it may just be mindless entertainment. But who can forget, say, Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” and its treatment of what it means to be human, or “Minority Report” and the nature of free will? Or, more popularly, the Matrix and the nature of reality itself. We remember stories like these--often despite their flaws--because they alter or heighten the way we perceive ourselves and our place in the natural order. In effect, they don’t simply regurgitate the human experience; they clarify it.
The good news is one need not be formally trained in order to write a philosophically sound piece of fiction, any more than one needs to have a degree in science to write science fiction. It’s all a matter of approach and subject matter. In my own experience, my story in the January 2013 issue of Penumbra started off as a fanciful yarn about a man and an unusual house. [Vague spoilers to follow] In the first draft, I went through the motions and banged out a working plot, but in the end I found it was ultimately missing something. It had no depth or relevance. In other words, it lacked philosophical weight.
It wasn’t until I started thinking more about the protagonist that I realized he had no significant problems. He was just an average man who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But what if he were an older gent that, at the end of his life, was forced to reevaluate the world view he had taken for granted for so many years? That, I believed, was something that spoke to our own experience: the comfort we find in the harmonization of our beliefs, and the tenuousness of things we hold as “knowledge.” And that, for better or for worse, became the foundation of my final draft for, “A House in the Woods.”
We all know, or at least should learn, the fundamentals of good fiction writing. Things like: write a compelling first sentence or paragraph, create a goal or desire for your protagonist, introduce conflict that keeps the character from his/her goal/desire, and deliver a satisfying resolution. But might I add, at least some of the time, incorporate a philosophical theme? It may not always fit, but sometimes, sometimes, it could make all the difference.
Samuel Marzioli lives in Oregon, and often writes outside in the rain under an umbrella. His fiction has appeared in Stupefying Stories 1.8 and the January 2013 issue of Penumbra. Several other stories are forthcoming in Stupefying Stories, Space & Time Magazine and the "A Darke Phantastique" anthology by Cycatrix Press.
Learn more about Samuel Marzioli his blog.