…as for the craft: I think it’s about sentences. You write: “Hal, as usual, was talking a lot of right-wing bullshit that made no sense.” Okay, fair enough. But now, in revision, you feel that the sentence lacks specificity. Forget about politics, truth, fairness, all that — it’s dull because it’s vague. The question is: What does he say, exactly? And what does his face look like as he says it? And who is he saying it to? And what do they think? And what is Hal thinking as they look at him? Does he feel he’s being judged? Is his stutter getting worse, filling him with rage? Is the father of the Swiss girl there, looking appalled at Hal’s stutter? Is the Swiss girl playing nervously with her braid, suddenly ashamed of Hal? So you have to cross out “talking a lot of right-wing bullshit” and give Hal something to say, in a specific voice. And now suddenly you’re really paying attention to Hal, which means you’re being compassionate. You’re actually curious about what Hal is all about, instead of pre-knowing what he’s about.
What I’m saying is, all moral concerns in fiction reduce to technical concerns. And technical concerns drive us towards specificity and detail and truth.
“Huck and Tom represent two viable models of the American Character. They exist side by side in every American and every American action. America is, and always has been, undecided about whether it will be the United States of Tom or the United States of Huck. The United States of Tom looks at misery and says: Hey, I didn’t do it. It looks at inequity and says: All my life I have busted my butt to get where I am, so don’t come crying to me. Tom likes kings, codified nobility, unquestioned privelege. Huck likes people, fair play, spreading the truck around. Whereas Tom knows, Huck wonders. Whereas Huck hopes, Tom presumes. Whereas Huck cares, Tom denies. These two parts of the American Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the nation, and come to think of it, these two parts of the World Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the world, and the hope of the nation and of the world is to embrace the Huck part and send the Tom part back up the river, where it belongs.”
—George Saunders, Introduction, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Modern Library Classics)