There are criteria that writers and scholars use to define great fiction—theories that set rules and raise bars. And although definitions may change slightly with each successive generation, there is a common belief that all great fiction is tied together by a common denominator, regardless of genre or current trend. Author Steve Almond described it best when he said: “Literature is nothing less than an ongoing discussion about what it means to be human. It is intended to awaken compassion within the reader, and when necessary, distress.” (http://www.mobylives.com/Almond_Bloom.html) In other words, all great fiction is informed with emotion.
A writer’s most important goal is to make the reader identify with and care about what happens to the characters. Maren Elwood, professional writing coach and author who worked with thousands of writers during her lifetime states in her book Characters Make Your Story: “All art is concerned with the creation of an emotional reaction on the part of the beholder. As one of the arts, a piece of creative writing is entertaining only as it moves the reader emotionally. The reader wants to feel, he does not want to think.”
Emotions are fleeting and writing, as an art, gives permanent form to the emotional experiences in our lives. Great fiction is like the pause button on a remote control, arresting the transitory so that emotions can linger and be seen. In the introduction to her Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers, Joyce Carol Oats says: “All artists know either consciously or instinctively that the secret intention of their life’s work is to rescue from the plunge of time something of beauty, permanence, significance in another’s eyes.”
It is only in fiction that truth can be told. The unique experiences as seen through the writers of great fiction can, many times, clarify the emotions that lie within all of us.