They say there is prose and verse and you can have poetry in either. This strikes me as true.
Literature is an art, not a science. Living is an art, not a science. This is why the term ‘Arts’ is often associated with, and even interchangeable with, the term ‘Humanities’.
The American poet, Jim Morrison, was once asked about the cross he wore around his neck at the Doors’ famous gig at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968. He said, ‘it’s just a symbol. It doesn’t mean anything.’ At first this might seem a contradiction: you might argue that a symbol is all about meaning. You might say that a cross is a symbol of suffering. That is its meaning. I think what Morrison was trying to indicate was the difference between a fact and a symbol. Facts have an exact meaning. They are scientific. Symbols don’t have an exact meaning. In fact, they don’t say anything at all. They suggest. They have multiple aspects. Symbolism is at home in verse but it should be present in prose also, or any prose that sees itself as literary.
Yes, there is logic and science in literature, only it should serve the symbolic, the imaginative and the poetic. I believe a writer achieves maturity when he comes into awareness of the symbolic. When he begins to manipulate symbols in order to suggest and play with possible meanings. The mature writer knows how to strike a balance between symbolism and logic. The concrete nature of symbols allows him to play with them in his art. You can’t play around with abstracts because they can’t be visualized or imagined. That is why too much abstraction is a flaw in literature – it goes against the imagination and the imagination is paramount in literature in all its forms.
Consider Homer, the first poet of Western Civilisation and then consider Seamus Heaney, one of the greatest poets of the last fifty years or so. They both worked with concrete. With that which can be visualized and imagined. They worked with symbols.
Life is mysterious and writers can only capture a portion of that mystery through symbols. Life is messy and mixed up and confusing an only the mirror of art can reflect this. A good story, just like a good poem, shouldn’t have a precise meaning. It should only give you something to think about. It should suggest, allude and indicate. It should never impose itself. It should never enforce. It should never moralize except in the most general of senses e.g. it’s wrong to take another life. Good literature is an invitation to play – play with the intellect, the feelings and the emotions. Only when you master this will you become a good writer. Some of us master it at a young age. Some of us have to wait a few years and some never master it at all. It is a mixture of imagination and intuition, two terms that are alien to science and even craftsmanship. No matter how much you read and discover, there is no formula for it. You must simply write to get to it, to get to the ‘good stuff’, and, if you are lucky, you will.