One of my favorite quotes on creativity comes from David Foster Wallace:
Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being. If you operate, which most of us do, from the premise that there are things about the contemporary U.S. that make it distinctively hard to be a real human being, then maybe half of fiction’s job is to dramatize what it is that makes it tough. The other half is to dramatize the fact that we still “are” human beings, now. Or can be.
This isn’t that it’s fiction’s duty to edify or teach, or to make us good little Christians or Republicans; I’m not trying to line up behind Tolstoy or Gardner. I just think that fiction that isn’t exploring what it means to be human today isn’t art. We’ve all got this “literary” fiction that simply monotones that we’re all becoming less and less human, that presents characters without souls or love, characters who really are exhaustively describable in terms of what brands of stuff they wear, and we all buy the books and go like “Golly, what a mordantly effective commentary on contemporary materialism!”
But we already “know” U.S. culture is materialistic. This diagnosis can be done in about two lines. It doesn’t engage anybody. What’s engaging and artistically real is, taking it as axiomatic that the present is grotesquely materialistic, how is it that we as human beings still have the capacity for joy, charity, genuine connections, for stuff that doesn’t have a price? And can these capacities be made to thrive? And if so, how, and if not why not?
It’s something that I always try to think about whenever I write something new, although I probably live up to it only 25% of the time. It’s just damn hard to write comedy that is both funny and can leave the audience with something that makes them feel better as human beings, to feel full and light at the same time, which is how I think about it whenever I watch something that’s technically amazing and packs a good emotional, humane punch.
It’s especially hard when writing satire because satire is more about tearing something down than building something new. Even if I can’t hit what I’m going for more than 25% of the time, I still think it’s a worth goal to aim for–to make things that are funny and that have a positive effect on the audience, even if that means showing them something dark about themselves that they don’t want to confront.