Monday, November 22, 2010

Why We Write

100_5048My 8th grade son has really enjoyed his Language Arts class (what the schools are calling English these days) the last couple of years. His teacher actually moved up from 7th grade to 8th grade and he’s having her for a second year.

I’ve been impressed with the way the teacher has taught topics like mood and tone and the quality of the assignments she sends home for projects. I feel like he’s getting a really solid background in a subject that’s important to me.

He does have a new assignment, though, that’s got me puzzled. To be fair, it hasn’t actually come from the Language Arts teacher that he and I like so much—it’s a school-wide, quarterly book project and is supposed to supplement his other curriculum.

For the assignment, he’s to take the books he’s reading for pleasure and do a comprehensive project on them. So, not the books that he’s reading for class---books he’s reading for fun.

Commercial fiction. Genre fiction. For him, this is Sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian literature, etc…and do a project.

Fine. But one of the questions on the assignment is “what was the author’s purpose in writing this book?”

My immediate reaction was to snort. For commercial fiction? That purpose is personal to the author. It could be because they can’t NOT write. It could be that they’ve studied the market and studied the craft and written a book that they thought could sell…to break into a difficult and crowded market. It could be for money. It could be that they dreamed up a character that demanded to have a story written around them.

But almost always? It’s to entertain. It’s probably not to inform or educate. It’s to provide a reader a few hours of escape. It’s been carefully thought-out and designed and revised and sweated over to seem seamless and to be riveting.

Why do you write?