Writing as a program for the human mind; The Importance of Taste and Tastefulness:
I would like to wax philosophical for a moment, if I may.
I would ask you to consider an analogy in which a story is a computer program or a "phone app" and the writer is akin to a programmer. Our job is to write a set of thoughts -- instructions to process information -- and we wish to do it well. But the human mind is a curious machine: Every single unit is a different model and processes thoughts differently. Our goal, then is to create a series of artificial thoughts which will enable the reader to follow us from information to conclusion. We are writing inputs to create a desired output.
For example, if we write comedy, we wish the reader to laugh. We program using the Joke method, perhaps. Or the absurdity method. And so forth. In some it produces the desired effects; others don't find it funny.
The human mind, however, is different from those silicon-chip monsters that inhabit all of our deskspace. The human mind does not have to accept the thoughts as they flow by; it can critically analyze them, correct errors in them, weigh them for truth value or for usefulness, and reject them if they are unpleasant. The human mind runs these programs in virtual processors that are set apart from itself; in self-aware processes locked within greater processes.
This is a huge benefit; we can learn about a madman without thinking his thoughts, whereas a computer can only read a virus by running it and triggering its evils. And yet, there is still an effect from a constant immersion in unpleasant and unhealthy stimulus; it eventually seeps past the barrier and into the self-programming of our innermost processors.
With this in mind, we, the writers, must write a program -- an artifical dream, if you will -- that presents a pleasant view to the mind that runs it. We must entice the reader's mind with pleasant thoughts in order to present the ideas that we wish him to consider and to analyze. That is why so many great philosophical books present themselves as narratives. Great art speaks of life; and Life is best understood as a series of events, and thus the narrative gives a carrier for the idea.
But Life is not always pleasant. If the art of writing is to reflect the reality of life, then the unpleasant must often be faced, and even the greatly distasteful. However, these themes can be dealt with pleasantly. Life is not always beautiful, but we can tell of its ugliness in terms of its beauty.
There are always those who wish to experiment in any art, and some will say, "Art is not always beautiful; let me show you the ugly, the disgusting, the hurtful." Can such a work be art? Without doubt; it speaks of life. But the processor for such a program will reject it. The mind will not entertain ugly thoughts when it can see beauty instead. A work of art that is never perceived is no work of art; it is merely an exorcism of the ugliness within the artist's head.
A writer here recently asked opinions of a work that was merely a recitation of horrors and ugliness, offered as an experimental work. To such a one I must say, "The experiment fails; the processor will reject these inputs; the ideas will be ignored." If there is a message to be conveyed -- and art always conveys a message -- then the message is lost unless the dream is pleasant enough that the processor will consider it. To Shock the Reader is to lose him.
Dispense with horrible gruesome recitations; instead think on higher things.