“The only requirement for good fiction is that it be interesting,” Henry James said. A fiction writer doesn’t have the restrictions of a non-fiction writer. As a work of fiction belongs solely to the writer’s imagination, he/she is not bound by any formal rule. The only limitation comes from the imagination.
For any work of fiction to enter the realm of classic: it has to be good, interesting and 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).
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 or die for. Ultimate concern is the main concern in a person’s life. The ultimate concern consumes the person. It contains the answer about the meaning of that person’s life.
A person is grasped by this ultimate concern. Take the example of Harry Potter. His ultimate concern was to destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes and kill him. Harry was aware that either he would be successful in thwarting Voldemort, or he would die in the process. Though the outcome of this ultimate concern was absolutely clear to Harry, he was caught in the ultimate concern’s deadly grip. It haunted him. He had just one mission in life. Stop Voldemort.
Every work of fiction grapples with an ultimate concern which consumes the protagonist like a 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 they are willing to die for.
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.
P.S. I am reposting an old post. Next week I will have a new topic for you all.