The author has many duties and responsibilities – things you must keep in mind if you really wants to be considered an author. Your audience. Your story. And beyond that, the ways your story and your audience interact.
Every story should touch the reader in some way. Determining the exact whys and hows of that is part of your job as the writer, but there are some things that it’s worthwhile to keep in mind. One of these is the idea that your story should enrich the reader.
Now before we get into this, let me be clear. Some people are going to hear that and think that what I’m saying is that stories need to be family entertainment, that anything that wouldn’t have been made in the era of black and white film is outside the bounds of good story telling. While many of my favorite movies are in black and white and I’ve nothing against family entertainment as a rule, that’s not at all what I’m saying.
Sometimes, the author needs to wander into unsavory territory if he’s going to tell a good story. This post by Brian Bixby says that stories do not always need to be uplifting. I agree with this statement. Uplifting and enriching are not the same things.
Enrichment does not mean that the person always walks away feeling good. Enrichment does not mean we always look at what is easy, or nice or likable. Being a better person is not directly proportionate to how good we feel. Stories like Animal Farm, 1984 or Brave New World are very dark and unpleasant. You hardly walk away from them feeling great about yourself. They take a hard, honest look at what people are like and what they could be doing, should we let it come to pass. And when we finish with them, we can take what we’ve learned and make ourselves better with it.
Or not, there’s always that option, too.
The point is, the author must at least offer something enrich the reader, even if the reader doesn’t want it, or else he’s just wasted the reader’s time. If a story is nothing but words on a page, read and then forgotten, the author has taken his audience’s time and left them with nothing. That’s not writing, that’s theft.
Of course, not every story has to be as challenging as Animal Farm. Humor, suspense and slice-of-life all bring something to the table, be it large or small, that give the reader something. A joke to share with friends. A tricky situation to ponder and sharpen one’s mind on. A story to share and bond over.
It’s tempting to look at the big, heavy stories and think, “I want to write something like that.” But not every story is suited to carrying such heavy stuff. Read and practice and you’ll learn to gauge how deep and heavy a story is (but that’s undoubtedly a whole ‘nother post entirely.) Practice with little stories. Write out jokes. Retell favorite moments from books in your own words. Do it over and over again.
Most of all, write with purpose. At some point in your story process, ask yourself, “When people walk away from this, what do they take with them? Is it worth the reading?”
Then, write it out until it is.