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Why Do You Read? What Makes a Good Story? Q&A With Eleven Authors (Part One)
What makes a great character?
What makes a great story?
Why do you read?
I asked these questions to several authors and game designers, and their answers were eye-opening. They gave me permission to reprint their replies below, and I hope you find them as interesting as I did!
(I received so many replies that I’ve split this article into two posts. Part Two is already written and is coming in a week or two!)
Creator of The Call of Cthulhu RPG
In addition to Call of Cthulhu, he is known for designing most of the levels in Doom and Doom 2, for his work on Age of Empires, for founding Petersen Games (one of the few profitable board game companies that exist), and for creating a great YouTube channel about elder gods and eldritch terrors.
Because fiction can often illuminate reality more clearly than reality. And it can ask questions more clearly than reality. Here's an example: in the story, THE CALL OF CTHULHU, the protagonist discovers that every single thing that humanity has accomplished is going to be completely destroyed in a few decades at most, along with humanity itself. What is the point of existence? He decided people shouldn't know the truth and hid it.
Here's another example: in the story THE OUTSIDER, Lovecraft presents a hero who desperately wants to fit into the world and society but discovers this is never going to be possible. In his story THE TOMB, he has a hero who doesn't want to fit into the world and society, but can't escape. They're like flip sides of the same hero.
Author of Soft Targets (Coming March 22, 2023)
A great character serves the story. So, like with everything in writing, it can be many things. A cardboard cipher, an expressive realist depiction, and a broad archetype all can have stories crafted around them that would be worse without them.
A great story is one where everything in it works in tandem to a singular effect.
Artist and Game Developer, Tuff Mallow Interactive
Take a look at this coming-soon visual novel, The Closet Door. For those who don’t know, indie games take an incredible amount of time, skill, and effort to produce! Furthermore, have a look at this Tumblr.
Because escapism isn't always an unhealthy venture.
Because fiction stimulates the mind and inspires new ideology and ways to interact with the world around us.
Because reading in general is a way to receive communication from one individual to the next, and we are a highly social species.
Because we are able to connect and learn and engage stimulus in a controlled and paced manner that relies solely on the person reading. (Without overstimulation of outside stimuli or extraneous use of bodily functions.)
Because it stimulates a primal need to focus on and consume new material in a harmless way. We relax in a way that allows us to focus on reading when we read something we desire to. (Another reason you should never read msgs/text and drive)
MANY MANY REASONS.
But all under the umbrella of the human experience.
I feel the need to say this at this point: reading and writing can be a clinical experience. Or a learning experience. Or an entertaining one. I am not in any way of the school of thought that all three can overlap smoothly. I died trying to get through a Michael Crichton book. That and Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Not every literary scientist can write organically, and I do feel that styles of writing can grow dated.
If you plan to write as a philosopher, I think there's so much that can be expounded on. But if you want to be a novelist, the focus should be on Living. Because even in stories about death, they are personified in the experience of life. In communication, we are able to connect via common threads of shared life experience. In world-building, we learn less from history and more from our own stories that paint windows of perspective that the reader can travel through, and in doing so, expound on the way they see their own world.
In reading fiction (and sometimes in other forms of print media), we are actively filling in the blanks with our own understanding. Because of this, the reader is an active part of the words unfolding before them.
Creative Director, Lead Artist, and Lead Writer at Steamberry Studio
The creative force behind the visual novels Changeling and Gilded Shadows (funded in less than 24 hours on Kickstarter). I highly recommend Gilded Shadows. The game helped introduce me to visual novels, and how the genre is characterized by such great character writing and setting development.
Why do people read? Because they like it. Because a teacher made them. Because they were bored. There are as many reasons for reading as there are people who read.
What is important is knowing what you want to communicate (which doesn't have to be a deep message. It can be a feeling. It can be an experience. It can be a fun, light-hearted story with no deeper meaning than an attempt to be fun or funny).
Getting out and there and living can mean going skydiving or to visit some far off place. Or it can mean going to feed the ducks. Or working a soup kitchen. Or just walking down a sidewalk and appreciating the fall leaves.
It can be going to a dentist and thinking, "Wow, this sure as hell feels like I'm about to be tortured. I should remember this feeling. :ogod: "
You don't have to only experience "interesting" things to be a good writer. A lot of writers are boring hermits, tbh.
It's about the richness of the things you experience.
I live a very boring life tbh, and I feel like I have plenty of experiences to weave into my writing.
Author of Iron Ore
Ore is a software developer, short story author, and novelist who is currently working on a really stylish novel. It is about a magical world filled with charming (and bizarre) witches that takes place in 1930s or 1940s Britain. It reminds me a little bit of Neil Gaiman crossed with some classical (Russian?) literature, and it makes me think about Harry Potter, but only really because they’re all British. It’s excellent so far.
Why do I read: because I'm able to experience worlds and lives that aren't my own and go on an adventure while I'm sitting in my living room
What makes a great character. Someone who even if you love or hate, you hang on. Their words, their decisions, who they love, who they hate. Their life means something to you and feels real enough to be transfixed by
What makes a great story, Hmm this is a hard one. I guess you never want to put it down. You feel like the characters are your friends or your enemies, and somehow you find yourself up at 3am biting your fingers or laughing or crying.
Author of Practice Space
Fiction author and memoirist from Bucharest, Romania. By trade a lawyer, his literary work has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, and other places.
I used to read for escape. As a kid, I hated reading—far too tedious, boring and never relatable for a kid more interested in Street Fighter than Heidi. Then, in high school, I discovered Yasunari Kawabata, and I was blown away. I found myself inescapably absorbed in scenes of Japanese countryside, town houses filled with beautiful women engaged in tea ceremonies, and high-stakes Go matches. I realized fiction could be the perfect escape, a portal to worlds I’d never dreamt I could inhabit. For years I read fiction voraciously. But in recent years, I find myself turning more and more to nonfiction, with a newfound thirst for information. I read and write more nonfiction, and instead of escape, I’m learning to take more notice and appreciate the world I live in. I’m learning to inhabit my world more completely.
What do you think of these answers?
One idea jumped out at me the most, but I’ll describe it in Part Two, which is already written and is coming in a week or two.
How would you answer these questions? Let me know in the comments!
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