Why You Read, Why I Write:

The Reader. {{PD-US}}

“To some degree, we thrust ourselves into the hands of a storyteller, trusting that he will deliver us safely from a daydream that swiftly turns into a nightmare.” (The Passive Voice, quoting David Farland)

What should stories do – teach us something about reality, or allow us to escape from reality? Those that are more literary scoff at clichéd, formulaic endings, yet readers still snatch them up. What exactly is it we (since I include myself under ‘readers’) are looking for in stories? Not something unexpected, or you’d think romantic comedies would go out of business.

Obviously, all writers would like to know why readers read. It’s like the magic formula for turning lead (your writing) into gold (money). That’s why this particular post from The Passive Voice (summarizing from David Farland) intrigued me. “Why People Read.” Hmmm, wouldn’t we all like to know?

One of Farland’s main ideas is that reading is some sort of emotional catharsis that enables us to deal with the unpredictability and painfulness of life. See the above quote – we put ourselves through the emotional experiences of characters because we trust the authors. (Could actually explain why I feel cheated when authors put their characters through torment, and then never rescue them at the end.) We trust the author to resolve the situation in a way that real life almost never does:

“In short, those “trashy” genre stories that my writing teachers didn’t want me to read—the romances, fantasy, westerns, and so on – sell so well precisely because the audience does know within certain parameters how the story will end.” (quoting Farland again). We trust the authors to follow the script.

Which brings me to why I write. I think one of the reasons (and not the only one, mind you) is because through writing I can control things. Things will turn out how they should, rather than not making sense, like life does. I have far more time to think about each step, measure my words, and plot out the consequences of every possibility. When was the last time life allowed you to do that?

We all have to live in the real world. And I do, despite escaping into imaginary ones on a regular basis. But we all have different ways to cope with whatever life throws at us.


What about you – why do you read?


Filed under On Writing

5 responses to “Why You Read, Why I Write:

  1. This is very true. (or I think so!) I think we all need to escape in some way or another. For some people its their job (workaholics), others its music, or art. For me and you it is writing and reading!


  2. That’s true. You can control yourselves. 🙂


  3. Alexia

    I don’t know if I read to escape my life… I always thought that it was more about looking for something different, and experimenting things that could never happen to me. As I’m saying this, I am reminded of Rory’s graduation speech in Gilmore Girls, let me see if I can find it… Ah : “I live in two worlds. One is a world of books. I’ve been a resident of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina, and strolled down Swann’s Way. (…)” This first part of her speech, it really describes how I feel when I read, It’s this other world that I love to explore, but not always because I need to escape my own, it’s just nice to be part of both. Not sure if I make myself clear.

    I do trust the author, though. I think it’s interesting, I never thought of it that way, but when you start reading you don’t question the story, you just go with it, and yeah, you expect the author to give you a end you can live with.


    • You are right – reading is more than just an escape. It’s also to experience things that will probably never happen in our own lives. And that’s why I wrote that controlling some type of reality is only part of the reason that I write… I also write to invent things that are impossible. 🙂 I think for me, it can be both (an escape and an adventure), but different amounts of one or the other depending on how I feel at the moment.
      I did like the part about trusting the author too. I think that must be why I am so frustrated when I feel a book ends badly.


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