I got a great comment from Ashwin that won't fit in the comments so I'm posting it here:
I think you've said something in that good fiction - or any art, really - teaches us how to see. It's for that reason it's difficult - or perhaps futile - to assign criteria (as Gardner does) to any art form. Because the criteria is always external to the inherent need of the artist to express himself. No one can fit his world, his inner life, into the categories or options offered to him by the external one already consuming him. The true artist is always under assault. If the external world - and what it has to offer - was satisfatory, there would be no need, no inherent need, that is, to create. Every man and woman should be free. To express themselves in line with their conscience, which is their inner life. Gardner's code of conduct is the most undemocratic, damaging, set of instructions offered to any artist, anyone striving, within themselves, to be free. Listening to him, or anyone like him, is falling to the selfish need to be heard, instead of engaging in the more worthy pursuit of discovering how to speak. Or as one of our professors once said, sing. How can anyone teach you how to sing? Gandhi once said, "All true art is thus the expression of the soul. The outward forms have value only in so far as they are the expression of the inner spirit of man." Gardner's guidlines are merely suggestions for outward forms" of fiction. But what you've said, in that flipping open a book to see the prose, IS, to me, the search for the inner life of the author, and how that inner life is expressed. That's just what I think. I may be wrong. One of the damaging things about the professionalization of writing, or fiction, in our country, is that we often forget that fiction, while containing it's own techniques and logic, is a form - a true, open, liberating form -of freedom. And that freedom, when the individual is left to his own doings, his own conscience, discovers it's own logic and technique in the pursuit of something not yet known. You've mentioned that you don't know EVERYTHING. Well I second that, and find no value in knowledge sought for the purpose of ownership, or even worse, power. There is no power in knowledge. There is only freedom. The acquisition of knowledge gives us - should we listen to our conscience and the inner life in the process of obtaining that knowledge - the license to express it in accordance with our own, individual, path. Gardner is for the birds man. And so is any false prophet who claims they may teach you how to be your own man, your own woman, your own artist, your own liberated soul. Faulkner once said, "I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written about it." I think anyone fortunate to have been born free - as most of us are, in America - should understand that we have the very rare gift of expression, thought, and creative license. What a tragedy it is, I think, to sell that to anyone who has a very narrow understanding of what moves the soul. Usually, in our day, those people are called publishers. But that's a little too dramatic. You've mentioned the importance of the sentence. Now, who can teach you how to write the sentence you MUST write? Well there's probably a few deluded nuts who'd raise their hands at that one, but I think that it's always the last thing we'd ever really say which is what we need to say first. The final cry. And what prescription can you give me to mend that wound? I'll have to make it with my own hands, digging into myself, until I have nothing left. That's our gift, I believe, in America. To be able to do that unapologetically. We compromise our birthright from the moment we lend ourselves to taking guidance from those who offer solutions in nuts and bolts. Forms. Figures. Prescriptions. There are moments of clarity offered us, however, by those who haven't succumbed - and never will - to the dictates of false prophets. Some of them, you've mentioned on your blog. They aren't saints. Better yet, they're human. They choose the inner life - messy, raw, unnamable - over the very static laws offered to them by lesser men. These writers - or any such artist - or no other reason than being in possesion of the need to express themselves in accordance with their own vision, allow us - as you've said - to see.