Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Purpose of Our Books

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
file00082614237I’m always interested in seeing what my children bring home as English homework.

My daughter had an assignment a couple of weeks ago where she had to identify four different types of writing and then provide examples of each.

The four purposes for writing (according to this textbook, anyway) were to entertain, inform, persuade, and to express an opinion.

My daughter said she thought one of the purposes should be to make money.  :)  For her, my writing is just another job.  I told her it was a way to make money, but not many of us would write only to make money. 

So she asked me what the purpose of my books was.  I think she was expecting a clear cut answer from just one of those four purposes. 

I told her my books were mostly written to entertain.  In fact, I put a lot of time and effort (and, yes, even market research) into writing to entertain.

But the books are basically wrapped in ad copy.  That would be the cover, the blurbs, and the cover copy.  I also have a teaser at the beginning of my Penguin books and some of my books have teaser chapters at the end.  So, the book is there to persuade, too.  It’s there to look tempting on a shelf or a website.  And, with my content, I’m hoping to persuade readers to buy more of my books.  I’m persuading my readers to like my characters, to like the story, to keep reading the book.  Persuasion definitely plays a part.

I know that the times I’ve wanted to inform as a purpose, I’ve nearly gotten myself into trouble.  I’d have a big research session and that temptation is always there—to show what you’ve found out and inform the reader.  It’s easy to get excited about your research. But…the reader isn’t there to learn more about blunt force trauma.  She’s really not.  So we have to be careful about how much we inform with fiction—a little goes a long way. But, yes—sometimes I do try to inform with my writing.

Expressing an opinion, though?  I’d like to think I haven’t done as much of that. As a reader, reading what is clearly the author’s opinion (a political rant, for instance, or support of a cause) can be very jarring.  The opinion becomes author intrusion when it doesn’t seamlessly fit into a scene or when it doesn’t sound natural coming from the character expressing the opinion.  Opinions have to be handled with care in fiction, for sure.

What’s the purpose of your books?  Do your books have more than one purpose? How do you keep yourself in check from too much informing or from author intrusion?

Image: MorgueFile—Alvimann