When you claim to speak truth, opening your mouth is dangerous. Words are not idle collections of syllables in a conversation or symbols on paper. The pen is mightier than the sword, causing both greater good and greater harm. Wars, racial slavery, and genocide are all carried out by the sword, but words provoked or justified those actions.
While scrolling through Instagram the other day, I came across a recent quote by S.D. Smith, author of The Green Ember. The words made my head snap up and the gears in my brain start turning.
“Bad books are a myth because the only measuring stick is people’s whims.” I ended my first article in this mini series with that provocative and troubling conclusion. But hopefully you followed my reasoning. Since even literary-minded readers occasionally enjoy “bad” books, how can we make any objective assessments?
We all have books we hate where we can’t fathom how anyone else could enjoy them. And yet scrolling through the reviews of even your least-favorite book on Amazon or Goodreads will inevitably reveal a number of five-star write-ups. Why do readers like these books? And why does this matter to authors?
Have you ever set down a book, startled that the author turned your outlook upside down with tiny black marks on paper? Do you want to write stories that have the same effect on others?
As I stared at the blank page beneath the title of this article, my mind revisited all the stories that have given me a transformative experience. I love when my heart skips a beat and I pause to process the exhilarating symphony that the words are orchestrating in my imagination. Or when I come to an ending so satisfying that I’m amazed.
A NYT-bestselling author I heard once argued that readers tend to “read fiction to escape. Authors are entertainers,” and whether we like it or not, we need to give people what they want. But is this really accurate? Or is there a deeper reason for why people read fiction and what we need to thus provide them as storytellers?
How is fiction useful? Is devoting our lives and careers to it appropriate? Most of us have wrestled with these questions. For some, concern has been posed by parents, who want to ensure that their children spend their time constructively and seeking truth. Others have sensed unspoken skepticism from the culture around them, as if writing couldn’t possibly be a meaningful pursuit on its own.
Have you ever wished you could skip to publication? Waiting can be discouraging, especially when a dream is involved. Writers at all stages have felt that their stories would never appear in a bookstore.
At intervals throughout your journey, you’ve probably wondered whether you’re a good writer. Unfortunately, I can’t sympathize because that thought hasn’t occasionally crossed my mind.