Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

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One tiny star

Whoops! Didn’t mean to go incommunicado there, but sometimes that’s just how the kibbles roll, you know?

Anyway, I’m back from the holiday, and I’ve been thinking a lot. About family. About hard work. About writing, of course. And last night in the shower, I realized something.

It’s very important to me that I write 1 of 2 kinds of books: either a story that I really want to read, or a story that I really think the world needs.

My guess is that most (if not all) “good” books fit into 1 of those 2 categories. I think Stephenie Meyer, for example, really wanted to read a book about all-consuming love. So she wrote one. And it resonated with people.

And I bet — well, we know — that Suzanne Collins thought the world really needed a book about war and its effects on everyone, even those not directly/willingly involved. So she wrote one. And it resonated with people.

Jodi Picoult is another great example of someone who (I believe) has made a career out of writing books that she thinks the world needs, in a style that is uniquely hers. She’s a “commercial” author who tackles big topics and provokes readers into actually thinking about them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in “mindless entertainment.” But I don’t think entertainment has to come at the expense of passion and/or purpose.

(In fact, I think if you look closely, the best “mindless entertainment” has plenty of both.)

Books that are only written with dollar signs in mind? That’s not for me. And I’ve put down many books for pandering to the marketplace. They practically play Bingo with the various elements of popular fiction and then Frankenstein the pieces together, creating horrific monsters indeed.

Even though money is a concern* I aspire to more than a healthy bank account. Trite as it may sound, I do want to make a difference. I want to shed light on stories that aren’t being told or heard. I want to sweep myself off my feet, want to fall in love with my characters and get caught up in their world. I want to move readers. I want to open their minds and maybe — just maybe — change their lives.

The shift doesn’t have to be huge. I’m not so naïve/arrogant as to think that my stories will turn someone inside out. But even one tiny star twinkling in the night sky lets us know that there’s more out there. One star can make us look. One star can make us wonder.

*I am the 99%. So is my friend Mary, who wrote about it very eloquently.

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21 Comments

  1. Just so you know, your words here impact lives, too. I’ve been having a really tough day, but reading what you said just turned it around. Thank you for reaffirming so beautifully what writing is all about – getting swept off our feet, falling for our characters, and going on their journeys right along with them. It’s such a gift, one we need to be grateful for every day.

    Thanks for being that star that lit up the sky :)

  2. I would say that I am writing books that I want to read. I think that makes it easier. Even if no one else likes it, I’ve achieved the goal of writing a book I want to read. :)

  3. Ben

    This. I decided this myself back in the summer and it’s why I canned the novel I finished over the past year. It was too commercial, too pandering, but had some seeds of what could be a really solid literary fiction.

    So I started over.

    I’d love to “retire” from the 9 to 5 and only write. And I think you can get there without being a used car salesman, a human spam bot, a literary hooker.

    Hopefully what I’m working on now will be the one. We’ll see. If not I’ve got a million more ideas where that came from.

  4. I agree about wanting to have an effect on people. As Andy Warhol said, “An artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them.”

    And I agree that “mindless entertainment” is often not mindless at all. I remember people dismissing Fight Club as a movie about guys beating each other up, but it’s clearly much more than that. I reviewed the two Kill Bill movies myself (http://u-town.com/collins/?p=1159) because I thought people weren’t paying enough attention to what they were really about (which was definitely more than just great fight scenes).

  5. CG Blake

    Kristan,
    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I write what I am passionate about. The topic might or might not be important to anyone but me. My work focuses on families in conflict, which undoubtedly resonates with many people. Every novel worth reading has a deeper message or theme. For me the theme usually doesn’t present itself until I am almost done with my first draft. Thanks again for your post. What are you currently writing?

  6. Vaughn

    All I can say is: Amen, Kristan. If I had gotten into this crazy game for the money, I’d have gotten out a long time ago. Love that star analogy. Really wonderful post!

  7. This is a great post, Kristan. Sometimes we forget that we’re doing here, especially when so many say we should/shouldn’t do this or that to achieve our goals. This post helps us identify out priorities.

  8. Les

    That’s how it should be, although I think there’s an element of commercialism in everything we read. But really, why shouldn’t there be? Just because writing is an art form doesn’t mean the author shouldn’t be compensated for the time and effort they put in as well.

  9. I think that ‘the story I want to read’ usually also turns out to be ‘the story that the world needs’. If you need it, then there are probably other people out there who are wishing for the same thing.

    I try to remind myself that’s why I’m doing this, and why I can’t give up!

  10. I’ve never understood the supposed dichotomy of “Art” v. “Entertainment,” because the best books, movies, music, etc. are both at once. An entertaining book is an absorbing book, the sort that fully immerses the reader in the story. Without that total immersion, what good is all the thought-provoking material? And without the important stuff, the things that open and change minds, why would the reader remember the novel at all?

  11. Well said!! Great post :)

  12. Jon

    Agreed. I write for myself, but I also have an audience in mind. For this YA novel I’m writing, I want my little sister to enjoy it. That means I have to finish it before she grows up!

  13. I write books that I want my kids to read, books that I would have wanted to read when I was their age. And, yeah, books that I want to read now :)

  14. Shari-
    Anytime. ;)

    Ben-
    “I’d love to “retire” from the 9 to 5 and only write. And I think you can get there without being a used car salesman, a human spam bot, a literary hooker.”

    LOL exactly.

    Anthony-
    By that definition, Steve Jobs was an artist too. And I don’t necessarily disagree with that.

    CG-
    I’m writing a YA novel with multicultural themes and dystopian undertones (even though it’s set in the present day). I usually don’t play my stories so close to the chest, but this one feels different, so that’s all I’m saying for now. Hopefully I can reveal more soon-ish. ;)

    Les-
    “Just because writing is an art form doesn’t mean the author shouldn’t be compensated for the time and effort they put in as well.”

    Oh, I definitely agree. I’m thinking more about books that are conceived by marketers instead of writers. “Hey, So-and-so is a huge star, let’s have her write a book!” or “Let’s mix vampires, Voldemort, and a fight to the death on reality TV together — it’ll be huge!”

    T.S.-
    “If you need it, then there are probably other people out there who are wishing for the same thing.”

    Well said. :)

    Lura-
    Agreed. See my comments above to Les, too. Those are the kinds of stories that I have a hard time respecting, that I would say lack any degree of “Art” (and thus any value, really).

    Jon-
    You can do it! Also, what a great goal. :)

    Sherrie-
    Like I said to Jon, what a great goal. I always like it when big-time actors have kids and suddenly do a bunch of children’s movies. Same idea. :)

  15. I have no problem with classifying Jobs as an artist. There’s a reason that Apple (unlike every company they compete with) does no user testing at all. He approached consumer electronics the way an artist would.

    What I object to is when people classify him as an “inventor.” :-)

  16. I’m on board with desiring books that are written for more than money. The dichotomy of books I want to read and books I think the world needs is one I’ve often reflected on, and enjoyed your further reflections here. However for one of your examples, of Suzanne Collins thought the world didn’t have over a million books about the toll of war on participants and non-participants, she would be embarrassingly underread.

  17. John-
    Perhaps I should specify that she thought a younger audience needed a fictional book about war and its effects.

    Also, “every story has been told.” We hear that again and again. But sometimes they need to be retold, retooled for a modern audience. That’s no less worthy a cause then writing an “original” story.

  18. cookie

    Currently I’m writing things that just are fun and magical and light. It’s not important and its not serious and its not Suzanne Collins or Tolkien. But its child-like fun, the kind of tales that just make you want to relax and forget anything important.

  19. Magic and lightness are very important. :)

  20. Joelle Wilson

    Great post. It’s great when you read a book that you resonate with. I just hope that the serial killer story I’m working on doesn’t resonate with anyone. ;)

    And I love this – ” One star can make us look. One star can make us wonder.” I may have to start making a list of the quotes that catch my eye in your posts. :)

  21. Lol well at least not the serial killing part!

    Aw thanks. *blush*

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