The Integrity Partnership Between Author And Reader

Posted at 16:02pm on 23rd February 2009

I want to consider, today, something which is relevant to human life, in general; to personal development; and to all the relationships which touch on our lives. It’s an issue, however, which is of particular relevance to writers – whether you’re a novelist, an author of self-help books, a journalist, a biographer, or a blogger.

Take your time. Think it through. Because the question (and it is only one, viewed from two different angles) is profound.

  • Do you, as a reader, or viewer, hope to empathise with the characters in a novel or drama and to recognise yourself and your circumstances? Or do you hope to learn something new about yourself and fellow humans?
  • Is your aim, as an author, to reflect life: human behaviour; human thinking? Or is your intention, as a human being, to write in order to direct and bring about change in what you perceive as the ills of human experience?

The question is not a new one. It is often applied to television drama, comedy, and reality shows, which set out to shock and outrage. The authors and directors claim that what they broadcast is merely a mirror image of what is already occurring. However, critics suspect that there is an insidious element which seeks to ‘radicalise’ human thought and behaviour.


I’d like to suggest that story-telling is so fundamental to human experience that it might, almost, be seen as essential an ingredient to survival as, say, air or water. Human beings have told stories since the beginning of time. They’ve been handed down by word of mouth, told in parables and Bible stories; pictorially, in cave-paintings and engravings; dramatically, through ancient Greek tragedies; and inscribed in tablets of stone and marble. And I’d like to put forward the idea that this is not merely for entertainment.

In the animal world, the young are taught to experience their environment in practical ways, by being urged to fly, to flee, to hunt, to kill. We undertake a similar education with our own young. We teach them to be mobile; to achieve; to soar. We teach them to avoid danger; to provide for themselves; to defend themselves and others. But human offspring take longer to mature than animals. And in addition to the need for practical skills, there is the necessity for us to impart to our young an understanding of psychology. And not simply a cerebral understanding! Our children, and their children, need to know how to apply that learning – if they are to have any quality of life. In other words, it's not sufficient simply to know when certain behaviour is appropriate. They need to be taught the self-discipline to apply it accordingly.

So the answer to the question as to whether we want to confirm known behaviour or to learn new is, probably, both. We read to our children because we want to impart to them an understanding of what it is to be human; to share common values; to be tolerant of those which differ from our own. We read, as adults, to confirm that the experience of our own lived-out lives is common to all. But also to enlighten ourselves about events, behaviour and emotional responses with which we have, previously, been completely unfamiliar.


We watch TV and films for the same reasons. And the clever writer – the writer whose aims, skills, techniques and integrity are integral to one another – will enable us to live, vicariously, through the characters in whatever medium they are written.

Which, when you think about it, is a huge responsibility for we authors. Because simply observing human behaviour is not enough.

  • We need to be clear what our aims are when we write.
  • We need to understand the power of integrity.
  • We need to engage with our readers so that they live through our characters.
  • We need to hone our skills in order to achieve all of this.

My book, A Painful Post Mortem, is a novel which asks searching questions about relationships in life, and in death. Click on the link to buy a copy. ALL PROCEEDS ARE FOR CHARITIES BENEFITTING CHILDREN.

NEXT TIME: We’ll take a look at how we achieve the objectives listed above, so as to make what we write a contribution to understanding human behaviour.

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