“ The only requirement for good fiction is that it be interesting,” Henry James said. A fiction writer is free from the shackles that bind the non-fiction writer. For creating a world of make believe a writer of fiction is under no legal obligation to anyone except his muse. As a work of fiction belongs solely to the writer’s imagination, he or she is not bound by any formal rule. This freedom is akin to the wind under the wings. The only limitation comes from the imagination.
For any work of fiction to enter the realm of classic: it has to be good, it has to be interesting and of course relevant to all times; before and after its publishing period.
What separates a good fiction from a great one is not just the literary and technical skills of the writer, but also the universality (the universal questions the book deals with in its own inimitable, unique and interesting way).
Paul Tillich calls it the Ultimate Concern. The contemporary fiction which falls under the best category has the quality of the ultimate concern in abundance. Ultimate Concern is something that we take with unconditional and utmost seriousness in our lives without any reservations. It’s something that we are ready to suffer for, or, even die for. Ultimate concern is something which makes every other concern in that person’s life secondary. The ultimate concern consumes the person. It contains the answer to the question of the meaning of that person’s life.
I believe that every work of fiction grapples with an ultimate concern which consumes the protagonist like fire. The resolution of this ultimate concern forms the crux of the story. For me the ultimate concern transfers into the conflict in the book. Maybe the conflict in my book may not be universal, maybe this conflict is just crucial for my protagonist: but it becomes his or her ultimate concern, something he or she is dead serious about. Something for which they are willing to stake their lives.
How do you decide the ultimate concern of your protagonists? Are they grasped by it like Harry? Please share. We would love to learn from everyone’s experience.