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Wherefore

Something I read today made me wonder: Is it important to know why a writer writes something?

(I’m thinking fiction here, mind, since I feel the nonfiction answer might be different.)

My rule is that good writing should communicate whatever it needs to communicate in the absence of authorship. That is, a good author is able to remove himself from the work and the work itself should stand on its own. And so, strictly speaking, it shouldn’t matter why someone writes something.

Now, that aside, I do agree knowing more about the author can often give a work additional depth. At the same time, however, it might ruin the pure enjoyment of the work by coloring it in a way the author never intended.

A lot of my writing has themes I never consciously considered but were pointed out to me later. When someone says, “Oh, I see what you did here,” my response is usually, “Did I? I hadn’t noticed.” I guess literary critics find this to be a good time, and I don’t have anything against it except when they put words in my mouth or attribute some kind of agenda to me that I never had.

In school, of course, we’re taught to deconstruct text. In film school, the movie was the text. Stripping things down, then, becomes easy, even habitual. But are we honestly enjoying the book or the film if we’re tearing it apart at the seams in our minds?

Sometimes themes are so glaring one can’t help but notice them. But otherwise, unless I’ve been assigned to break something down, I’ll generally try to keep to the basics. And if I happen to know a little something about the writer, director, actor, whomever—if there’s some trivia lodged in my brain—I’ll try to remember that while it may have bearing on the story, it may also be more subconscious than conscious . . . Or it may not have any bearing at all.

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Writer/Screenwriter

Comments (1) for post “Wherefore”

  • I try to read for enjoyment rather than a writer. I want to just enjoy stories and not pick them apart. Sometimes, as you said, themes stand out, but I don’t force them. It is weird when others point out something in your writing that you never realized was there. I still don’t know if I should pretend to have done it purposely or act with honest surprise.

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