Literary Hash Function

271 words

It’s occurred to me, and been reiterated by various advice, that trying to inject morals or maxims into fiction is a certified Bad Idea(tm). If you try to do that, then you’ll be writing fables and not fiction.

I was reading this:

Which has a scene where someone is trying to auction off their possessions in exchange for time. The young undervalue everything, and the old have no time left to offer.

It reminded me of a kind of aphorism I have that runs along the lines of “some billionaire might pay everything they have to have your health, or your relationships, or most of all your youth; but they can’t.” It’s supposed to remind you that you possess some things that are impossible to acquire for many people, including yourself in the future.

If I’d tried to directly write some fiction to capture that idea, I’m sure it would have turned out as some clumsy fable and been a disappointment. But Palahniuk’s short story did manage to capture at least some of the idea with that scene of the auction for time.

That set me wondering about the meta-fictional idea of a “literary hash”, i.e. some kind of abstract function that is able to take in a fictionally dull but emotionally bright aphorism, and produce decent fictional scenes, characters or plots out of it.

I suppose that is largely what a fiction writer is, or at least it’s one of their roles. Would it be fruitful to try and think through how to apply it more consistently, though? Is that a skill that can be taught, or even self-taught?