Jeffrey Allen Mays

Let’s start from the very beginning

William Faulkner

“…the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself, which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about…”

This famous quote by William Faulkner was spoken at his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1950.

What does he mean by “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself?” Is it just any conflict?

If we can get a finger on this, we will be able to take a first step toward identifying good writing. We will also have criterion by which to judge a piece of writing bad, which we must insist up on the ability to do. We cannot leave writing to either commercial interests (whatever makes money) nor to the postmoderns (who’s to say what’s good or bad writing?).

It is not the only criterion, but it is an important one. The Twilight Series might be found to have this quality, but that doesn’t make it good literature. But I digress.

This phrase should also be of very critical importance to any writer, mainly of fiction. This is a dictum of a man who many consider to be the greatest American fiction writer of all time. I have to ask myself, does my writing explore the problems of the heart in conflict with itself?

Readers, writers! We must get a hold of what he means. Don’t give up on this. This is the key. What is “the heart in conflict with itself?”

I am no expert, and it seems to be much more complex than any surface answer would allow. But I will tell you what I believe it means.

Starting tomorrow.

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