Why do we read what we read?

Why do we read what we read?

Resuming the blog this year, more than slightly behind schedule, I’ll be exploring why exactly we read… and why we read at all.

The human mind is hard-wired for stories.

Don’t believe me? The first question every child asks is: “Why?” Growing up, we demand better, fuller, more complex answers—that’s the reason we pick up a book and read.

Throughout history we have loved to make up stories—sometimes it’s called gossip or a story we tell ourselves or it can be literature, or it can be an outright lie. It might be a soap opera or an Oscar-winning movie. We need stories, because they help explain and enlighten our lives.

There’s parts of our brain that when damaged will rob us of all story. Once these essential parts of our brains are gone—from Alzheimer’s, from injury, or is missing from birth due to chromosomal defects—we sadly seem to become less human, because we are no longer able to interact with the world within the context of a “story.” From the age of about two years, the human’s very large brain—designed to process and store and use vast amounts of information—has craved story in every form. Very few of us actually hunger after how-to manuals or textbooks, unless we need the information to help process—you guessed it—some story of particular interest to us. It’s information that helps fill in the blanks.

Recently, I was a judge in a book contest and assigned one biography category. One of the entries, a blow-by-blow, data-driven account of the lives of three people in one family had all the reading appeal of a laundry list. The author had assembled his information as if gathered from drivers’ licenses or the department of vital statistics: that’s not what story is about. There are many, many fine biographies, all factual, that are written using the same skills that make a novel pleasant reading: writing that satisfies the reader’s basic need for a story.

Over the centuries, truly great raconteurs—those whose stories we want to listen to—have been replaced by writers and in some rare cases, great cinematographers. However, even those movies start with the lure of the written word.

So, what do you read—and why?

Join other readers Saturday, February 21, 1:00-3:00, for a discussion by mystery writers at Mostly Books, 6208 E. Speedway, Tucson, AZ.

Next blog post: Readers Seeking the “Double C”. Can my readers guess what it is?

A Writer’s Thanksgiving

Prompted by a friend’s blog this morning, I decided to share some of the things that I am specifically thankful for, especially as a writer:

I have the opportunity and the ability to read. I’m grateful that I’ve read as much as I have throughout my life. I was weaned on great literature and I’ll thank my parents for that.

I’m thankful for life experiences that have made me an insightful writer and (I hope) a better teacher.  Not all experiences were good, nor were all bad, but they have helped broaden my view of the world and myself. I have observed people and places, words and wonders, characters, careers, and creation. Throughout a varied professional life, one thing has remained constant: my writing.

The tools to write with: a word processor makes writing so convenient that there’s no excuse not to write. But there are other tools—like the ability to put words together into moving sentences—that no machine can imitate. I’m also thankful for a lined, yellow legal tablet and a smooth flowing pen. I won’t leave home without pen and paper… they’re almost more important than a cell phone, although not as helpful in an emergency, I’ll admit.

Time to write: There’s never enough, of course, but it’s important to me that between teaching and editing I’m always working on my own books. Each moment spent writing is precious.

I’m thankful for supportive writers’ groups, good editors, and other writers who continue to inspire me and provide examples of excellence in writing.

I enjoy what I do, tremendously—and I’m grateful for that.  Most of all, I’m thankful for my readers.

Happy Thanksgiving from The Writers’ Table.





F-I-C-T-I-O-N—“T” is for Truth

What if I were to announce that Fiction is the literary form best designed to convey and reveal the Truth? If I were back in my old classroom I would imagine a phalanx of frantic hands, waving before my face in protest.

“But Mrs. Lockhart—”

“Don’t you mean it the other way, that only nonfiction tells the truth?”

No, absolutely no. Actually, the student answered his own question. Nonfiction is data-based. It is ideal for documenting, delivering an account, and telling facts, not showing the Truth. So what’s the difference and what makes Fiction so ideal?

[Read more...]

Learning our Culture: The Role of Fiction

No blog can come close to addressing the richness that Fiction alone has contributed to our lives.

Here’s an interesting factoid related to F-I-C-T-I-O-N. All the great literature of western civilization is Fiction. How about that? There are a few exceptions, such as Churchill’s writings, Gibbon’s The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and some others.

Practical nonfiction is designed to communicate information when the quality of the writing is not as important as the content. Therefore, what has crowded great library shelves, even when literary works were on scrolls, has always been Fiction.

Take a step back in time about 3000 years and consider the epics of Homer, The Odyssey and The Iliad. This famed narrative poet was reporting what had taken place several centuries before his own time, creatively recounting events of history, blended with mythology, in order to tell a more compelling story.

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Characters in Fiction–The Letter C takes the Cake! Part 1

These blogs that lightly touch on the Wonderful Art of Fiction don’t presume to cover everything or examine all aspects in the depth they deserve. The Writers’ Table is highlighting the passionate, distinguishing attributes that separate fiction from so-called nonfiction. Knowing even some of these differences gives authors incentive/promotional tools for marketing our art. As we work our way through the acronym F-I-C-T-I-O-N, the letter C  has much to offer.

C is for Characters. Without characters, a story would be events, dates, and outcomes. In other words, the same as nonfiction and not very interesting. Characters bring a story to life and permit the Reader to engage with other real people. Many Writers prefer a character-driven storyline. How would a particular person act and react in a given set of circumstances?

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Fiction–The G-Rated “F-Word,” Part 2.

Gathered around The Writers’ Table last week we discussed two unique features found exclusively in Fiction and not in nonfiction. Feelings are central for the Writer and the Reader. Meanwhile the author’s adherence to authentic Facts(which we’ll discuss at length later on) remains every bit as important. No matter the genre, there’s nothing like the appeal of a well-written, enduring novel that offers entertainment with painless education on the side. The ideal reading experience is “curling up with a good novel,” not the latest How-to or Self-Help book.

Here are several more “F-words” that distinguish Fiction from its distant relative, nonfiction. 

F is for Fun: Not all Fiction is Fun, but most is. If it’s fun to write, then it’s usually enjoyable for the Reader too. Although there is intense work represented by the simplest story, all Writers find pleasure in their work. If we don’t find pleasure, it shows through. At present, certain “Big Name Authors” have ceased to write their own stories, relying on a name alone to sell their books. Maybe they’re not enjoying the writing process anymore. The astute Reader can always tell.                    

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The Wonderful Art of Fiction–the G-Rated “F-Word,” Part 1

In this new series of blog posts we’ll use the acronym F-I-C-T-I-O-N to help Readers and Writers view the traditionally accepted role of fiction in a new light. No matter the genre, there’s nothing like the appeal of a well-written, enduring novel that offers good entertainment with painless education on the side. The ideal reading experience is “curling up with a good novel,” not the latest How-to or Self-Help book.

Let’s examine the passion and aliveness that distinguishes fiction from so-called nonfiction. One Writer once described fiction as “real life with all the dull parts left out.” That’s a good beginning, but there’s even more to it.

F is for Feeling. For those of us with even one year of high school journalism, one dictum was drilled into our heads: “You must not allow feelings or opinions to intrude in your writing.” Unless you were lucky enough to write editorials, now known as Op-Eds in many periodicals, or even feature stories, your writing was deliberately sterile and devoid of feeling. Most nonfiction remains that way.

[Read more...]

Writing is All About Reading

Writing is all about Reading: My blog title should make sense and stand by itself, yet I’m sure that in the minds of many it does not. I’m proud to be an author and to claim many other authors as colleagues, but all of us were first and foremost voracious Readers. Furthermore, none of our writings—mine or that of my friends or even the Greats of all Time—would have existed beyond the moment of pen-to-paper had it not been for Readers.

My next several weeks of blog posts are directed to both Readers and Writers of Fiction. You Readers of nonfiction should stay tuned as well. Anything that we enjoy, we enjoy even more if we understand how and why it reaches us and touches us. Why does a certain kind writing have compelling power? Why do others not?

Readers and Writers are in this together. For Readers, you’ll enjoy understanding better why you like to read certain authors and genres as well as why you don’t like others. If you’re in a book club, you may find inspiration for stimulating discussions. As a bonus for Writers, you’ll learn how to reach those with the same passions that you write about….

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Remembering January 8, 2011

Does it require a senseless tragedy to bring out the best in a community?

There’s probably no good answer to that question. Today, as we commemorate Tucson’s mass shooting and tragedy of only one year ago, this is something we should ask ourselves.

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Goodbye to 2011–Reflecting on Ten Years Ago

The year of 2011 has come and gone, without disasters like we knew on 9/11. That’s not to say our world is at peace or there is no more danger, because that isn’t true. But revisiting that one day was a time of reflection: all of us remember where we were and what we were doing, ten years ago.

On September 11, 2001, a group of us were cocooned in natural beauty, indulging in the completely hedonistic pursuit of wine, fine cooking, and our shared passion for history. We wallowed in the peace of this golden setting, once a luxurious estate of the 1930s set amongst rolling grassy hills that were topped with sprawling oaks and surrounded by the vineyards of Northern California’s world-famous wine country.

Here are the memories we all should have treasured from that special week: [Read more...]