"Despite the labors of academic artists and those sophisticates who are embarrassed by emotion, it seems all but self-evident that it is for the pleasure of exercising our capacity to love that we pick up a book at all. Except in the classroom, where we read what is assigned, or study compositions or paintings to pass a course, we read or listen to or look at works of art in the hope of experiencing our highest, most selfless emotion, either to reach a sublime communication with the maker of the work, sharing his affirmations as common lovers do, or to find, in works of literature, characters we love as we do real people. Ultimately, in fact, plot exists only to give the characters means of finding and revealing themselves, and setting only to give them a place to stand. As for "thought," the element so quickly dismissed by Aristotle, it is simply what the characters say or would say if they were wiser and had our distance from the story. In art, morality and love are inextricably bound: we affirm what is good -- for the characters in particular and for humanity in general -- because we care. The artist who has no strong feeling about his characters -- the artist who can feel passionate only about his words or ideas -- has no urgent reason to think hard about the characters' problems, the "themes" in his fiction. He imitates human gesture in the movements of his puppets, but he does not worry as a father worries about the behavior of his son; and the result is a fictional universe one would not want one's loved ones forced to inhabit."
John Gardner, On Moral Fiction