“Most people, in daily currency, use words in what they think of as a fairly literal way. Consequently they are made uneasy if a writer does not use them similarly. They expect a novelist to know more words than they do, and to employ them with greater expertise than they can. Basically though, they expect a ‘story’ to begin at the beginning (wherever that may be). If the first four words aren’t literally ‘Once upon a time,’ the reader should be able to assume they’re taken for granted. The story should continue through exposition, climax, denouement, until on the last page the author can write ‘The End,’ and the reader may be confident there’s no more to come, that nothing that should have been said remains unsaid.
“The reader, then, expects to understand a work of fiction in the way he understands a conversation with his butcher, his bank manager, his wife, his colleagues at work, or even—in times of energy crisis—his candlestick maker or vendor. Or, pitching it a degree higher, he expects the fiction he reads to illuminate his own conversations with his hairdresser, his solicitor, his wife, his friends, even his Member of Parliament, because he knows that the author possesses ‘imagination’ while he probably does not.
“We are conditioned to read thousands of words every day. There are probably more of them in a single issue of the Times or the Guardian or the Daily Telegraph than there are in the average new novel; and we’re conditioned, because we lead such ‘busy’ lives, to read these words—whether in newspaper or book—as fast as we’re able to assimilate them. In practice, this means a general understanding of the surface meaning, the ‘factual’ content, rather than being persuaded, beguiled, influenced, stimulated and altered by the words. But the craft of even our best journalist is one thing, the art of our better novelists quite another. Or should be.” — Giles Gordon, “Fiction as Itself”