Monday, April 2, 2007

The Role of the Writer

"With great power comes great responsibility." When Stan Lee came up with this famous line, he was already exercising his talents as a writer. I'm here today to tell you about the importance of the role of the writer. I must strongly disagree with my colleague Mark Terry, who, in his blog here on the role of the writer, comments that "even the most successful novelists are mere second-hand jesters, at that." He then goes on to remind us that jester equates with "fool" (4/1/07). Novelists are some of the brightest people in the world; writing involves more than just throwing down random imaginary thoughts on paper. Novelists are world-builders for their readers. Novelists have the special ability to change people's mindsets, to change the world. Look at Ellison's Invisible Man (plight of the Negro in America), Dicken's Hard Times (the plight of child laborers), Haley's Roots (shows slavery for what it really was), Bradbury's Farenheit 451(the dangers of book burning), Orwell's 1984 (warnings about"Big Brother" with implications for today's Patriot Act), and the list goes on. While these novels are serious in nature and therefore automatically imply some sort of message to the reader, "entertaining" genres such as science fiction show us a new way of thinking (Clarke's 2001, Sagan's Contact, Asimov's Foundation, Robinson's Mars).

As a writer, I have a responsibility to my readers to not only entertain, but to inform and yes, enlighten. Research in narrative psychology shows that fiction actually gives readers a new way of thinking, as well as provide guidance in problem-solving. Fiction is also cathartic--readers can identify with a character going through similar struggles. While I agree that readers usually are not actively seeking these benefits when they pick up a book, I do believe that writers (whether consciously or not) are leading readers to these very things behind the scenes.

As a writer, I never consider myself a fool. Fools don't spend years of research to make sure the dates are right. Fools don't consult the thesaurus over and over again to make sure they have the right word (Flaubert spent years looking for this). Fools don't travel cross-country to make sure their settings are authentic.

Sure, when it comes to popular fiction, there are a lot of clowns out there. But I'm not one of them.

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