Written For The Alone

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“The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone.” Donna Tartt

I found this on a blog I follow yesterday. It’s an interesting point of view, and one that I mostly agree with, but there are elements that I take exception to.

There is, as Tartt says, a social contract implicit in writing. You are writing to entertain, to educate or to make people think (or all three). You don’t write to annoy or frustrate – at least, not in fiction. Well… not normally. I’ll grant there are some exceptions, but they’re usually making use of fiction stories to prove a political point, at which point I’d say they aren’t purely fiction.

But, and this is an important ‘but’, you can’t really think about that too much whilst you’re writing. Too much meta plotting and you risk losing the spark behind the words. If I’m in the midst of an exciting scene – and they should all be that, because if you aren’t excited by it no one else will be – I don’t have the time or energy to stop and think about the likely reactions of the reader. Every inch of me is entirely focused on getting the words onto the page. If I take my audience into account, I stop being inspired and start being manipulative. You can retcon for things that will irritate your audience later – write for yourself first.

That quote – ‘written by the alone for the alone’ – is a wonderful image, but it kind of disproves itself. Writer and reader are connected through the book; they are both intimately acquainted with the same people and the same events. The printed word is a vehicle of communication from one to the other. Even if they are physically alone at the time of interaction, the same cannot be said of their faculties.

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