What’s the Purpose of Literature?

What we choose to see, hear, and read matters greatly. People need good stories just as they need home-cooked meals, clean water, spiritual peace, and love. A good story is part of that process. It affirms divine order in the universe and justice in human affairs–and makes people better than they were before they read it.

If writers can’t improve the lives of their customers, then what is the purpose of literature? Surely there is more to art than impulse, fame, and paychecks.

* John R. Erickson, Story Craft; Maverick Books (2009), p. 108

Events and characters rattle around in my head until I tip over, like the little teapot in the child’s song, and pour the stories out. Then I scribble, scratch, and make paper heavy with their lead. In an attempt to make order out of it this literary madness, I have been re-reading Story Craft by John R. Erickson. I like what he has to say, both in these quotes and in the rest of his book.

So, do you agree with his notions that I have quoted above… Are there right and wrong moral obligations for authors? And especially more so for men and women of faith? Why?

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9 thoughts on “What’s the Purpose of Literature?

  1. I believe good writers find ways to write the truth of their own lives while leaving room for the reader to identify truths of their own. I don’t believe good art has anything to do with impulse, fame and paychecks.

  2. I think a good writer should be able to tell their story in whatever form it comes, because that is how life is… unedited, flowing streams, messy, bloody and REAL. When we begin to edit Literature for specific content to fit into a boxed faith it loses a lot of its original flavor. I like fresh, picked straight off the tree. God takes us how we come and we should make room for writers in whatever form they come to us. I might not wholeheartedly agree with what an author chose to say or how they chose to portray something, but a part of reading is being able to empathize and move on.

    Good thoughts. Missed your face so I decided to drop on by…
    Hope you have a fabulous week.
    J.

    • Oh yes, good points, Jessica. And I reckon the author of “Story Craft” agrees, but he makes some valid points that should be considered by a person of faith who writes and competes in the secular world. (I plan to share more from this book and I hope you stop by to talk about it with me.) We know the problem with quotes is also that they are only a snip-it of the whole matter.

      Here is another passage I have underline and starred in my book; I think it holds hands with your comment.

      “Ultimately, Christian authors should measure their work against a set of aesthetic principles that apply to all writing… When we aspire only to “Christian art,” we run the risk of aiming too low and limiting our audience. Our audience should be the same one Paul was going after: the world.”

      In my opinion, as Believers, we have to do it in a way that sets our work on a higher shelf, so to speak. We should want to draw readers in. And when perhaps they will ask us, “Why is your piece different from most of what I read?” we can hold that door open for conversations.

      Blessings. (and it’s good to see your face too!)

  3. Hi Darlene–I came over from Jennifer @GDWJ blog and have been lurking lately here. :-) This topic is quite interesting. Perhaps literature’s purpose can be as simple as showing God’s beauty and variety–something that can be done without making moralizing “Christian art.” Whether it be telling a story or describing, laying out on paper the words God put in your heart is a worthwhile creation of the artist that can point to the Creator just by its beauty.

    • Thanks for peeking all the way through the bushes to say HOWDY, Jennifer!

      This is indeed an interesting topic that has many angles and ideas; I am interested in gleaning what I can from each person’s perspective. By the way, I agree about the worthwhileness of what God puts on our hearts as showcasing God’s beauty. In fact, there is a chapter in this book that discusses your point in more detail.

      Blessings.

    • Miss Nancy, “storytelling,” I like that word. I like all that it encompasses and implies…

      history,
      traditions,
      fun,
      lessons,
      bedtime,
      parent-child
      & teacher-student relationships.

      It seems like there is less stress in calling one’s self a “storyteller” as opposed to a “writer” or an “author” — could there be so much stress in paper?

      Your insight is keen. ;-)

      Blessings.

  4. “What we choose to see, hear, and read matters greatly.” Takes me right to the song we sang as kids in Sunday school…be careful little eyes what you see, be careful little ears what you hear. As it is important what we see, hear, read, it’s equally, if not more important, what we say, whether in spoken or written word. We have to choose our words carefully, and see if they bring glory to God, even if it is a personal story we need to ask is anything in this hurtful to someone else or to God?

    I love the quote. There is much truth throughout the entire thought he has here. Thanks for sharing!

If you have somethin' to say, I reckon this is where you should do it. And sometimes the blog wranglers hold comments out by the hay bales 'til I can approve 'em...

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