What is the point of writing? Is it to entertain? Is it simply to let the world know your thoughts? Why do we write (or direct, or sing, or act for that matter)? And why should we do these things? Or is that the same question?
These thoughts have bounced around in my head off and on for many years, but have become particularly persistent in recent months and weeks, to the point where I can’t even hear all the other voices in my head … yes there are quite a few. The subject comes up most often where my children are concerned. What do we let them watch on TV; what movies are ok and which ones are not? What books do we get for them, or should we just be glad they are reading anything? The TV and movie question opens a whole other Pandora’s Box, and we can discuss that at a later date. For now I would like to focus on writing, particularly books and articles written for children, but really any format of written word for any age group.
So, what is the point of writing? It certainly is to entertain. No one wants to write, or read, something that is not enjoyable. Hopefully it is well written also, written well in the sense of correct use of language. But should entertaining be our main goal; should it even be our second or third goal? What other goals should we have in producing something with which to share with our youth? To educate? This seems like a legitimate and worthy goal. Here again though, should it be our main goal? What about to “culture” our children, to introduce them to worlds and experiences different from their own? Again, within a certain scope this is a well-placed goal. I say within a certain scope, because there are a number of experiences we do not want to introduce our children too. I cannot imagine that firsthand detailed reports from a battle front would make good bedtime reading material for a nine year old.
None of these though fits the bill. No, I would argue that the main purpose of writing, the first priority, for any author in any medium is none of these. It absolutely has not been in the past, at least not across the board. Yes, I know the past is old and dusty and unenlightened. But every once in a while, we can learn something from what has gone on before us. Every once in a while “the way things used to be” is not bad or worse. Every once in a while some people other than the current generation “got things right”, and indeed better, than we do. I argue this is the case with the current condition of our written word, in particular for the youngest members of our society.
What then is this main concern, this first priority, of writing? It is to develop and strengthen the character of the reader. To combine a couple of definitions here, character in the sense of the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual, those principles and motives that drive the life. Character is what drives a person, what truly identifies them, and through them their community and their country. Without character a man crumbles, but a story without character is even worse for by it many men may crumble.
The main goal of an author should be to develop the quality of their reader’s character, not to develop their characters quality. This concept of “a moral to the story” needs remembering. It needs remembering for all the cliché and outdated reasons that we seem to scoff at today, because garbage in is garbage out, because what you read sticks with you, and most importantly because “you are what you read.” — JT Cope IV