Reading Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction side-by-side makes for a fun, challenging experience: figuring out how Mueenuddin’s prose violates stylistic conventions and gets away with it. In fact, Gardner’s (and other grammarians’) prescribed sentence constructions often lead to clumsy iterations.
In her well-known TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie argues for the importance of a multiplicity of stories, voices, and perspectives in order to do justice to the fullest range of experience and explode reductive stereotypes of people and places. “Stories matter,” she says. “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
As Game of Thrones approaches the finale of its fifth season, the show faces an interesting dilemma. It has caught up with its inspiration, George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, and is set to outpace it in the upcoming sixth season, venturing into territory that the books have not yet explored. While Martin stated in an April 2015 interview that he hoped the sixth book in the series, The Winds of Winter, would be published before the series premiered in 2016, the likelihood that the seventh book, A Dream of Spring, will be written before the series exhausts the material of The Winds of Winter is close to impossible.
Rebecca Makkai is the Chicago-based author of the novels The Hundred-Year House, winner of the Chicago Writers Association’s Novel of the Year award, and The Borrower, a Booklist Top Ten Debut which has been translated into eight languages. Her short story collection, Music for Wartime, will appear in June 2015. Her short fiction was chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011) and appears regularly in journals such as Harper’s, Tin House, and New England Review. The recipient of a 2014 NEA fellowship, Makkai will serve as visiting faculty this fall at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
While one can imagine the lyric impulse of the poem or the meandering logic of the essay easily fits with the notions of doubt and not-knowing, the question lingers: what of fiction, the genre that is conventionally thought of as “plotted”? Should writers of fiction come to a story or narrative with a conceit or concern already crafted, or does writing through, around, and among the consciousnesses, characters, and languages of fiction reveal to these writers their ultimate uptake?