In all the hubbub and hurry of writing stories, I sometimes lose sight of why I write stories in the first place (I lose sight of a great many things in the hurry of life, but that’s another topic). The question as to why one writes stories is not something I hear a lot of authors speak much about these days.
There are a lot of answers to this question, some bad, some decent, and a few good. If one writes stories to make money, that’s a rather bad answer in my estimation. It’s equivalent to someone working a job as a plumber or a stockbroker or a mountain climber saying he works his job simply to make money. It still is an answer, of course, and a valid one, but it’s a sad answer. If we work or do something or create this and that simply for money or to get by in life, then it’s a dreary life we’re drudging through, and it’s a dreary thing we’re doing (regardless of how potentially wonderful it might be or well done) to pay for that life.
If one writes stories for the fame it brings, well, good luck with that. For one thing, it won’t bring you fame, unless you’re Stephen King, and you’re not Stephen King. For a second thing, fame isn’t worth much (ask the next famous person you meet). If one writes stories to be able to tell people you’re a writer, I’m afraid that will get old fast (faster than you’re getting older).
But what about those better answers? I think there are two. The first is an answer that only makes sense if you believe in a god who created the universe, so this one might not make much logic to many people. Writing stories, along with building houses or carving statues or writing operas or cooking fantastic meals, is a form of creation and, therefore, is a mini-reflection of the creation of the universe. It echoes the divine echo. However, if you don’t believe in that sort of thing, then…you don’t.
The second of those two better answers is that stories can reflect the things that are right and reassuring about life. Stories can underscore human attributes that give one a little hope about life in general, amidst the insanity and squalor of that same life. Hope or warning. A story might point out that someone might be willing to die for someone else (A Tale of Two Cities), which is a very reassuring thought to consider. Another might examine the stability and value of family (Anna Karenina) and the danger of adultery (Anna Karenina again). A story might pour over the value of courage (Sam, in the Lord of the Rings) and what effect that has on those around that person. A story might showcase what happens when a person stands for what’s right, despite prevailing sentiment blowing in the opposite direction (To Kill a Mockingbird). The hollowness of revenge (Count of Monte Cristo). Forgiveness (Les Miserables).
The curious thing about stories written for such a reason is that they invariably reflect transcendent truths–ie., truths that are universally and generally acknowledge to be valid: that certain things possess great value, such as courage, honor, forgiveness, the willingness to sacrifice for others, etc.
But what about stories that do not reflect these monumental truths? If not for money or fame or the fleeting glow that creation brings, why are such stories written? This is something I puzzle over. Granted, we human creatures are complex and odd and reasonably individualist (most of the time), so it’s difficult to chop and cut and divide into neat little boxes. Life is messy. However, I wonder if the last reason is self-validation? Not self-validation in terms of proving that one can do something (write a book, bake a cake, build an engine, etc), but self-validation in terms of reflecting one’s understanding of life. Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, validates a particular view of love and romance and relationship that is a mixture of nihilism and narcissism; it’s view of love has nothing to do with the traditional, older view of love (preferring one another, sacrifice, honor, etc).
At any rate, I suppose I dealt with the topic in a rambling sort of way, but I find it crucial to stop and think, every now and then, why I do this or that. In this case, write stories.