On a previous thread, one of the commenters said that as writers of fiction we are charged with making sense of this chaotic world. That, in fact, ours is the most important job of all.

But is it really? I've never felt that way. We're not feeding the hungry or curing disease. We're entertainers, pure and simple. Philosophers have been pondering the meaning of life for thousands of years, with no conclusive answers. A novel isn't going to make sense of this chaotic world any more than a video game is going to mow the grass.

If I can make someone laugh, or bring a tear to their eye, or send a chill up their spine, then I feel that I've done my job. And really, it's difficult enough just to do that.

So why do you write? Do you consider yourself primarily an entertainer, as I do? Or do you aspire to loftier goals?

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Some of us write to offer an escape from a painful and stressful existence. There is some value in this. But more to the point: if a novel can help a reader deal with the loss of a loved one, or with illness, or with a great disappointment in life, that is something. Readers identify with characters.  Characters can show readers how to cope. In another sense, characters can instill ideals where there were none before. They can appeal to a man's conscience by showing a better way.

This was the old purpose of literature, even from the time of Homer's epics. Show men how to be heroic. Or show them how vices are their own punishment. In the olden times, books had a high moral purpose.


George Lucas said it's the easiest thing in the world to get an audience to cry - show them a puppy and then kill the puppy. Is everything merely a variation on that? Is all literature just emotional manipulation?

It seems kind of an empty goal to spend this much time on - especially when a movie can add a soundtrack and do it so much better... ;)

Went to a writer's workshop back in '08, earned a lucky draw with 12 others, and got Dennis Lehane as our ringmaster. It was fun, but he roughed me up personally for not "aspiring to loftier goals," as Jude puts it. He used the movie Casablanca as an example of what he and I believe IJ were talking about.

When the movie CASABLANCA opens, Bogart wants the girl from his past, and also to keep himself out of World War II. He doesn't like Nazis, but he doesn't want to actively fight anymore. But when the movie ends, when Humphrey and the police captain stroll into the airport fog, does Rick have what he wanted (like most of our genre novels, mine for sure)? Oh, hell no! He GAVE UP the freaking girl. She wanted him. He could have taken her back. But no. It was better for the Nazi-fighters if the love of his life stayed with her husband. Rick's not only sacrificing love and happiness to help the war effort, he's marching off to physically fight Nazis again. He's changed. He's become a better man.

Ideally, I'd like my fiction to both entertain and enlighten, but honestly, I do it because I love to make up stories. 

Ideally, I'd like my fiction to both entertain and enlighten, but honestly, I do it because I love to make up stories.

My thoughts exactly Jack...

I'm a huge Lehane fan, and I get what he's saying, but there's a fine line there.  He's a good example. In THE GIVEN DAY, he weaves his social commentary into the story so you're aware of it, but it enhances the story by putting in the places of the characters. In his last Kenzie/Gennero book, MOONLIGHT MILE, he wears his opinions too much on his sleeve. It's his weakest novel.

As has been said elsewhere on this thread, we all write somewhere along a continuum of entertainment / enlightenment. I write to entertain, but I also want readers to have an idea of what it's like to live in a small, economically depressed town where economic advances always seem to pass by. In my PI stories, my detective starts out as an every man, who finds himself becoming more violent as the situations he faces require him to keep moving the line he will no cross. Everyone has that kind of decision to make from time to time, though not usually on matters of life and death. Maybe they'll get something out of seeing a situation they recognize presented metaphorically through someone else's eyes. If not, I hope they at least enjoy themselves. It's not an either/or proposition, and should never be, regardless of genre.

It was fun, but he roughed me up personally for not "aspiring to loftier goals," as Jude puts it.

I'm not saying literature can't work on multiple levels, but I'm wondering if it's ever wise for an author to use his or her work as an instrument of propaganda or a moral soapbox. I think it's good to toss around ideas, and maybe not so good to try to impose ideals.

So I'm not sure what Lehane was getting at.

Sure, the days of the moral purpose are long gone. although the philosophers will argue that claiming there is no moral purpose is, or course, its own purpose, whether the author realizes it or not. Perhaps it's best to be aware of your "message" rather than buying into the conceit that there is none... ;).

I don't think it's about an imposition of ideas, but I do think that insight, or paricular point of view, is important for novels. And Inthink it's best for authors to be aware of those ideals. Tom Clancy novels have a partricular point of view and impose ideals.

One of the most common things I hear about mystery fiction is that it's about, "restoring order," - the bad guys get caught. As that's often not the case in realiy, is it propaganda or a soapbox?

The "better man" thing is key, in Lehane's mind. Your fiction should take the protagonist on a journey that makes him a better man/woman -- better in the sense that, now he's helping others, not just himself.

Joseph Campbell's Myth stuff works in here. Where's the professor? The protagonist now has won the prize, found a cure, killed the dragon -- done something that has brought happiness, safety, or love to his tribe of fellow humans. ??? Can't remember this lesson.... :)

I say:  Good for Lehane!  Having characters confront choices that involve ideals has nothing whatsoever to do with climbing on a soapbox.  That sort of thing has more to do with the author's pet theory or peeve, whether it be green living, PETA, global warming, priests who are pedophiles, Mary Magdalenes, wifebeaters or bullying.

And how can you impose ideals?  These are ancient and archetypal. We all know them. They are part of our consciences. 

As that's often not the case in realiy, is it propaganda or a soapbox?

No, it's just usually more entertaining when the good guys win, because that's the way most people would like for it to be in real life.

But yes. Genre fiction is escape.

Seems to me that fiction is a circus.  You're not going to school or church.

You're going to see wild animals and dangerous stuff and clowns.


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