Monday, December 23, 2013

The Philosophy of Writing: Why Do We Write?

Were I to ask you the question, "why do we write?" what do you think you would say?

This is, I admit, a rather broad question. There are, conceivably, tens of thousands of proper answers. I contend that the reason why we write is to tell a story. You'll find that this reason, above all others, touches on our basic yearnings and needs as people.

A story is the most fundamental, self-contained unit of text. It has a beginning, middle, and end, a hero and an obstacle. After overcoming the obstacle the story finds resolution. Any of these tales can be of any length, from a sentence to several thousand pages. It is through these narrative units that we tell stories.

A "story" philosophically conveys a deeper truth when told. This is because, at the heart of every story, is a worldview (a fundamental belief about the world, or about how we see the world).  Stories are told to change people's minds. The story of Jack and the Bean Stalk, is about a boy who, out of desperation, steals from and kills a giant to survive and fed his mother. Fundamentally the story advocates the principal of "might makes right," and becomes a tale about a child exploiting the stupidity of another for gain. It also can be about the fight for survival that many experienced during England's medieval history, in which the peasantry went to great lengths to keep their land and liberty, even to the point of revolt. So when this story is told, we are being fed an idealized situation and confrontation that reflects a fundamental truth about the world. Another example of this is the Judeo-Christian YHWH, and his pursuit of mankind through history. His story of redeeming mankind reveals the fundamental truth of our need to be saved, simply because the story emphasizes our poor states and suggests that YHWH must do something about it.

So, after all of this, we must introspectively ask ourselves, "Why do we tell our stories?" Is there a purpose or reason behind what we write? That is what we need to know. Without such knowledge we are depriving ourselves of the incredible worth of telling our stories with intention. This is different than being "preachy," mind you. Being preachy is underhandedly inserting our own beliefs into a story as a means to influence others to our side. Telling stories with intention involves laying out principals initially for your characters to run with and follow throughout the narrative. A character can be a "struggling christian" without being a complete asshole, or stereotype. Likewise, a character can be an outspoken atheist without being haughty, prideful, and incendiary. Establish what your characters believe. Attempt to understand why, and discover the significance of that.

So then, the message of today, where we start, is to tell our stories intentionally, understanding that behind every story is a greater narrative being told implicitly. Chew on that a bit, and I will continue next week.


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