Why it is not the readers job to make you a better writer..

Now if that seems obvious.. smile, nod, consider yourself a wise man and pass on by.. cause I have to warn you I’m about to rant. Full on shouty, frothy, ranting..

I’ll try to remain reasonable as I genuinely believe I’m making a reasonable point – tho I suppose we all do – however the people who tend not to agree tend not to be reasonable and that makes me ranty.

There is a common distinction within the realms of fiction, most specifically books, films and tv, that drives me a little barmy, that between the worthy and the mindless, or rather that which is perceived as worthy or mindless. It hinges upon the belief – or rather I should say it hinges upon the statement – that some art ‘makes you work’. In fact it could be said anything which is deemed to make you think is considered ‘art’ while the rest is relegated to the bargain bin of entertainment. Its odd. We seem to think our work should be done by our customers.

And who decides what makes you think? Or what thoughts are worthy?

I saw Godzilla recently. I’ve been thinking about it all day. I don’t consider it ‘art’, though I consider there were some truly skilled people involved in its creation, artists even. I don’t consider it entertainment either, for the simply reason it didn’t entertain me. I struggled to sit through it, fretting, fidgeting and just really really wanting it to be over.

But I did do a lot of thinking about it – and through it. In fact I did so much thinking that I kept zoning out and losing the plot. (It was fairly easy to catch up. A lot of the characters looked like they were zoning out too… ) Mostly I thought about how much better Jurassic Park was. I kept remembering the end scene, the T-Rex roaring as the sign.. When Dinosaurs ruled the earth ..fluttered down. Or poor old Pete beheaded on the loo..

I also thought about how bad the dialogue was, how lacklustre the characters. I counted up the number of film clichés I saw, worked out the resolution (not hard) and rolled my eyes at every unbelievably obvious and ridiculous plot point.

In fairness I did a great deal of thinking through the Two Faces of January too. Its considered a thinking film. Art. I thought about how bad the dialogue was, how lacklustre the characters. I counted up the number of film clichés, rolled my eyes at every.. well you get the point.

The art lovers – see how refrained I am, I didn’t call em pretentious twats – would say that was a poor example. When done right it makes you think about the human condition, who we are, where we’re headed, our flaws. Wall- e makes me think about those things. Is that art? Very entertaining for art 🙂


I like those things. I like the social commentary of Austen, the depth and detail of Orwell, the satirical bite of Adams. But what I admire is the way they wrap me in their world, the way they hold my attention fully. And what makes me return to them again and again is how they make me feel.

Facts – information, knowledge –  are not hard to come across. Even if you are quite determined to shut yourself off. And most people aren’t afraid of facts. I know some who collect them like stamps. Facts make you seem smart, facts don’t harm you and they rarely impinge upon your sense of self. Because they are disconnected, neutral, afloat without personal context. Life context. And there are countless books – on history, science, psychology – written by people who have spent their entire lives studying, that will get you as close to truth as we understand it. Its doubtful any novelist has the same credentials. Its doubtful they are any better informed than you.

Some would say its not about answers, its about asking questions. Its about pointing out the ugly truth that surrounds us.

The ugly truth of life is not something I feel the need to be told about. Its in the newspapers, its in the hospital wards and on the street corners. Life is all around me and I can see exactly the same ugliness and poverty and misery they can. The real power of fiction is not in making us think but in making us feel. We all study genocide and war at school and we shook our heads and knew it was tragic, but it wasn’t until we were shown Schindlers List that we cried for those lost.

The gift of the writer is to take those facts that we can all see, our experiences and our understanding and make the reader feel them. And how can we make you feel? By wrapping you up in our story. That’s why the most important part of any novel or film is whether or not it entertains. *insert smug smiley emoticon*

Those tales – the very worst sort – that plain don’t make sense, that throw the most obscure words around, that arrange themselves in defiance of logic or life, how can they wrap you in anything but a fog of confusion? At least with most puzzles we know what the question is.

And it is no one’s right to dictate to you what you should be feeling.

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? – J.R.R Tolkien

I struggle not to cry when I see the faces of children on the news. Present me with a whole book of that and my heart simply will not carry me through.

But if science and intellect is what these Art Lovers (hee hee..) respond to answer this: if misery be so worthy why are the true stories of those who have, and are, suffering in this world not measured the most worthy of all? Why is mis-lit not seen as superior to all fiction?

I don’t believe forcing people to feel miserable makes for a better world. Nor do I believe that people resist thinking, not even of the unpalatable. Listen to your average pub pedants – they aint very cheery are they? I think all day long. I think until my head hurts and I cannot sleep. I think about the world and I think about my family. I think about what they need, where I am, and what value I have.

Feeling on the other hand is where we live, because it has the power to impinge on our sense of self. Some people love misery, they wallow in it – they delight in it – and yes I find that odd, but they do so because it squares with their values. They cling to the notion of suffering as noble, even artistic, they thrive on drama, they are affirmed by the sweet ache of loss as if it were feeding their soul. And perhaps it is.

Pain helps us grow but I find more than enough in life. I’ll take wonder and fun and discovery in my art. I believe they call it entertainment. I certainly do.




Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s