Fiction is a Hypothesis by the Unconscious

Black Hole Eater by Thuberchs

Art is a hypothesis proposed by the unconscious.

In the scientific method, a hypothesis is rigorously defined, delimited and tested against reality.

Artistic hypotheses are obviously not rigorous, but ambiguous, not delimited, but open to unlimited interpretation, and tested not against reality but against the subconscious hypotheses already held by readers.

Fiction falls into an odd little category of its own, because it is not as inarticulate as music, which can speak only in emotions. Fiction can make (or proport to make) a "rational" argument, although the more self-conscious fiction is of its own moral, the more it risks degrading into crude propaganda.

If you compare Tolkien's work to some other "fantasy" fiction written in the same era, the difference is clear. Tolkien deliberately eschewed propaganda, or any kind of talking down to his audience. That is why he wrote imaginary history rather than allegory. 

It's hard these days to even find the kind of alternative "fantasy" that existed, mostly aimed at children, that was around at the time, because most of it is so unbearably cringe. The political correctness of the day, that the propagandists tried to push, have changed to different trends; nothing ages worse than yesterday's politically correct trend. I predict that much of what passes for mainstream fiction today will soon be unbearable for the same reason. (I already find it unbearable for the same reason Tolkien found "fantasy" of his own time loathsome; it's so ham-handed and false.)

If readers encounter a work of art or a story that proposes an alternative hypothesis about the world, the degree to which they can entertain that hypothesis is the degree to which they are likely to enjoy the work. (Of course, the execution matters too; if it is poorly written, there's no hope for the ideas to cross from one mind to another; it's like trying to walk across a rickety bridge.)

A reader with an open mind can enjoy more fiction, even those presenting hypotheses about reality that the reader doesn't hold. And a gorgeously presented work of art can persuade a closed mind to open a little more to the new idea.

(It is that power of persuasion which makes art the target of propagandists, alas.)

For me, the most important role of a fictive hypothesis is not to persuade others, as seductive as that idea is. The real role of fiction--for the writer and reader both--is to exercise the mind, like a muscle, to this flexibility, to be able to open up to new possibilities about reality.  

I have mentioned before that fiction tends to tread over the same 7 core questions again and again... but we are not able to every fully answer these questions, so there is no limit to the fictive hypotheses that can exist to help us grapple with these deep mysteries. 

Read Post: Fairytale Retellings & the 7 Core Questions 

By the way, I've designed a writer's aid for myself, a Book Outline Planner, a blank template notebook for outlining novels. This is the real form I use to plan out chapters and scenes of my novels. I sometimes write in it twice, in two different color inks. Once, I write the scene as a plan it, and then I write a second line underneath, saying what I ACTUALLY wrote. Same for the wordcount. So it works for "pantsers" and "discovery writers" as well as for outliners.

If you're a writer, and you're curious to know if it might work for you, here it is: