Pooh Bear Demystified
Socrates observed that man is a social animal. If I’d have been his contemporary, I’d have added the words, “who likes a story.”
When a journalist writes, “First the king died and then the queen died,” we have an article.
When an author writes, “First the king died and then the queen died of grief,” we have a story.
Grief is another sticky word, you see, because it’s laden with feelings. Unless we’ve lived a charmed life, everyone knows the meaning of the word grief. This shared emotion makes us want to know more about the queen. Why did she love the king so much that she died for him? Had they been married long? Was he her first love?
Simply put, a journalist tries to answer questions. An author raises them.
I read somewhere that people seldom read newspaper articles to the end. Once they have the basic information, their interest wanes. But, if a novel is good, readers will stay to the last page. They’ll want to know what happens to the characters. Writers who forget the human interest factor and use their novel to expound rather than entertain will suffer the fate of the journalist. Their novel will likely be left half read.
Which explains why Pooh Bear joined us on the previous two days. He raised questions, sometimes silly ones, about a subject that could have been boring. What better way to pique a reader’s interest in the mundane than to express these ideas through the simple questions of a well-loved figure from children’s literature. If I’d have created the character, Albert Cat, my device might have worked but not as well as with Pooh Bear for whom most of us have a fond attachment.
And so we come to another way authors differ from journalists: there’s more play involved, even in serious works. I won’t insist that Tolstoy had a sense of humor, but he did employ sticky words and rely upon cultural heritage to make his thoughts interesting. To entertain, he knew, was primary. To lecture, if he must, was secondary. A writer who forgets this order should confine himself to writing a diary. To bore an audience is an author’s greatest sin.
I shall struggle to remember these principles as I write my blogs. When I’m tempted to lecture, Pooh Bear will enter stage Write.
(Originally published 6/8/10)