W.P. Kinsella’s guide to writing fiction

My favourite author reads from his novel Box Socials.

My favourite author reads from his novel, Box Socials.

I was thumbing through my old copy of Thrill of the Grass, a collection of short stories by W.P. Kinsella, and was struck by a sentiment that echoes something I said to a friend over coffee: fiction should entertain the reader. A corollary to this credo is that non-fiction should inform the reader and any writing that can accomplish both at the same time deserves a doff of the cap.

In the introduction to Thrill of the Grass, Kinsella writes:

“The storyteller’s craft evolves from the time when the tribe sat around the campfire in the evening and someone decided he wanted to brag about his hunting exploits. “Listen to me!” he said. “I want to tell you a story.

If that story was not colourful and entertaining, the audience very soon disappeared. As it should be. A writer’s first duty is to entertain. If something profound, symbolic, or philosophical can be slipped in, along with the entertainment, so much the better. But if the element of entertainment is not there, the writing becomes treatise, essay or autobiography, and the writer has no right to call it fiction. Ultimately, a fiction writer can be anything except boring.”

This is a great touchstone for a writer. Kinsella wrote this way and that’s perhaps why I enjoy his writing — although the subject matter helped as he often wrote about baseball.

Much fiction fails, Kinsella said, because it is too autobiographical and the lives of 90 per cent of the population are so dull, nobody could stand to read about them. The other 10 per cent live such absurd lives that they are unbelievable. The challenge is to create a perfect mix of the believable and the absurd as well as a perfect mix of reality and imagination.

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