Due to the rapid success of Freedom's Scion, which has in turn stimulated fresh interest in Which Art In Hope, I've been getting quite a pile of email. The question most frequently asked in those emails is "Why?"
No, no! Not "Why do you waste your time writing this crap, Fran, when you could be doing something constructive, like putting diapers on piss clams or sifting the fly dung out of pepper," but "Why do you regard fiction as a suitable vehicle for popularizing the ideas of freedom, Christianity, and perpetually hot intramarital sex?"
In a sense, my correspondents' questions are their best answers. The great majority of them express admiration for the story of Hope and the ideas it promotes. But then, my typical reader is already in 95%-or-better agreement with me on those ideas, so the sample does possess a certain bias.
Nevertheless, the core idea is reliable: Fiction is a more effective vehicle for the promotion of an idea than non-fiction. Ask any of the millions who've been enthralled and uplifted by Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, or...or...well, I can't think of another novel that promotes perpetually hot intramarital sex at the moment. Perhaps one will come to mind later.
Fiction sells an idea by depicting attractive, plausible characters as they put it into action.
This is true even with some ineptly written fiction. No one in his right mind would call Edward Bellamy's proto-Socialist novel Looking Backward a piece of great fiction qua fiction. But it did inspire the Progressive movement of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, which grew inexorably into the horrors we suffer today. The power of Bellamy's ideas eclipsed the one-dimensionality of his characters and the dreadfulness of his prose.
Non-fiction works principally through abstractions. Yes, the non-fictional expositor of an idea can cite examples of the ideas he's promoting as they've occurred in the real world. Indeed, he must. But such depictions are, to use a term I generally try to avoid, bloodless. They cannot move the reader as fiction could, for the "characters" of real life don't get much opportunity to win the reader's affections and engage his allegiance. A novel, to be effective at its primary mission of entertainment, must show its protagonist(s) in a fashion that makes the reader root for him/them. That greatly amplifies the power of the ideas beneath the protagonist's course of action.
Think of it as hero-coupling. The reader hitches his emotional wagon to the protagonist's star. Having done so, he cannot root for the protagonist without also rooting for the success of the ideas that animate him. Should the protagonist succeed, the reader cheers for him and his cause at the same time. Should he go down to defeat in a "new wave" Unhappy Ending, the reader will feel a surge of anger and sorrow...once again, out of sympathy for both the character and the ideas that move him.
So I write fiction. Not quite as much, damn it all, as the voluminous opinion-editorial tirades that appear here, but I'm working on that. My day job tends to get in the way, though I'm certain that once I'm retired I'll find another excuse.
And I hope you who drop a few piasters on one or more of my books will keep writing to me with your ideas. Fiction isn't just a more effective idea-salesman than non-fiction; it's also one hell of a lot tougher to produce. I can use all the help I can get!