Thursday, January 28, 2010

First, You Must Entertain...

I attended a small local science fiction convention (COSine) this past weekend. The guest of honor was author L.E. Modesitt, and I was lucky enough to sit in on a couple of panels he was on.

One of the panels was about whether or not there is still a place for the stand-alone novel, or whether all books should be part of a series. The general consensus, as you would expect, was that some ideas truly are one book long, and some require more than one to tell the story properly.

However, in the course of the discussion, Mr. Modesitt said something that to me summed up all there is to say about writing:

"The first thing you have to do as a writer is to entertain. If you don't do that, it doesn't matter. No one is going to be reading the next book."

Wow. It's one of those things that should be dead obvious, but for me, it wasn't, or at least not until he spelled it out for me. As writers, we often get so caught up in the whole business of not having cardboard characters, and showing not telling, and what point of view is appropriate for a given story, that we sometimes forget what we're really here to do. We're here to entertain. It's that simple.

It also explains why sometimes books about boy wizards, religious conspiracy theories, and sparkly vampires get published and sell phenomenally well when many works that are technically better do not: Because the latter failed to entertain and the former succeeded. Period.

And not only do we, as aspiring authors, need to entertain our potential readers, but we also have to entertain agents and publishers and editors along the way, at least enough to compel them to pick our story out of the vast sea of submissions. And on top of all of that, we have to entertain ourselves. Because if we're not having fun writing something, then why are we doing it? Right?

When you look at it that way, it seems like a daunting task. And yet, it helps to put everything else into a proper perspective. Yes, having good grammar and "showing not telling" and all of that are still important, because they allow you to get your story across to your readers more effectively, but first you need to make sure the story is worth telling.

That's it in a nutshell. Thank you, Mr. Modesitt!