No one is writing good fiction. Except Jonathan Franzen.
May 30, 2014 | 10:25 am
I’m sure you didn’t need telling that. Its so blindingly obvious. But just in case you were in any doubt, here is AdviceToWriters, collecting the “Writerly Wisdom of the Ages” courtesy of Jon Winokur, laying down “Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules for Writers.” What greater endorsement could there be? And break them at your peril. Your Time Magazine Great American Novelist cover could be at risk.
And how do we know that no one else besides Franzen is doing it right? Well, Rule 8 of course: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” And these days, that probably means pretty much any fiction writer besides Jonathan Franzen. Oh, and perhaps some struggling Third World scribe getting by with pencil stubs and school exercise books in a backward hell denied even electric light and sanitation. Or a created-in-captivity prisoner (criminal or political) without internet in their cell. But, what are they missing if they can write like Jonathan Franzen?
This has a more than interesting connection to Rule 5: ”When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.” Well, is it? After all, one of the great qualities of the online writer of every stripe these days is supposed to be filtering: marshaling facts, aggregating information, making sense of the endless deluge of data. The facts themselves don’t even have to appear in the narrative (though Pynchon or Borges fans might miss them) so long as they inform a compelling tale. Even with every detail of whaling available online, for instance, I bet many readers will still make their first and last acquaintance with that bloody trade through Moby Dick.
Last time I checked, there was still a digital divide, condemning billions globally to economic, social, educational, and even intellectual and cultural, disadvantage. Yet according to Franzen, why should that matter? What have they to complain about if they can still get Franzenesque fiction?