"Or relearn something."--my real-world, neither writer nor piratical chummy John
As a way to begin a conversation, recently I've taken to asking people what they like to read, and once they tell me I usually ask why. I ask these questions generally expecting not to have read what they've read; instead I ask with a mind toward thinking about my own writing.
So one time when I asked my chummy John what he liked to read, he told me some books that I'd heard of but hadn't read, including, but not limited to, the Grapes of Wrath. And I tried and failed to say what genre they were in, and he said that he liked to read books that made him feel as if he'd learned something, or relearned something, or that just generally had a point.
I've been thinking about that. I've been thinking about my own writing, and I've been wondering what there is, if anything, to be learned from my stories. I never write with a mind toward educating the populace. I know of at least one instance when I specifically deviated from putting a lesson into my story. I had the excuse that the point of the story was almost the opposite of the suggested lesson, but there you are. I generally just write with an eye and an ear toward "the story", and just telling it.
But then, I've also had the experience of folk reading my stuff and coming back to me with all this inner meaning and analysis which I meant naught into it. So, yeah. Whatever.
I don't really know. Literature is mostly meant, I think at some level, to be an exploration into human nature, not really more or less, just complexly so. And if I continue to strive for quality then this purposes of representing the human animal in trueness and deep complexity will indeed instruct those reasoning individuals my readers on the subject that literature explores at some level. (And that was possibly the most complicated sentence I have written for months.) But I've never set out with that educational intention.
Back to my quote. After speaking with my chummy John, I went off by myself and for a long time I thought. And pondered. There was definitely some pondering. I thought about what my not necessarily brilliant with words but well meaning chummy John was really trying to get at, and additionally I deviated from it a little and evolved the idea, and I came to the question: What justifies this? Why does this story have a right to exist? Not comparatively, but standing alone, why does this story exist? And I tried to apply this sort of vague question to my ideas, to the stories I'm working on, one in particular that I'm getting pretty wrapped up in.
So far I haven't been able to answer. I feel sort of giddy in a sort of subvocal, bass violin, fresh-baked bread smell, sort of way with this question. I told my little brother today, "Just say things that matter," when I was starting to argue about something for the sake of arguing about something. And I feel like, even if they don't educate, I don't want to ever tell a story that doesn't matter.
I have no answer the the question, "What justifies this?" The story that I tried to apply it to is eighteen pages long, and will probably be a novella, or a novel, so it doesn't need to answer that yet.
Taking a page from Ali-demon's blog, here are interactive questions: Do you try to only say, or write, things that matter? Do you try and educate with your writing? Hope that people come away feeling like they learned something? Or are you just whatever about it all? Or some of it all? How do you feel about llamas in the new year? Or in the old year? We're not particular.