Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Why Do Readers Read....

by Matt Lynn

One of the interesting questions for any writer is why do readers read? There have been a couple of interesting articles recently about 'neuro- lit crit' (such as this one in the New York Times, or this one in The Guardian).

I won't try and get into the science of it too much, because clearly I'm not qualified to. And I'd probably get the wrong end of the stick anyway. But from the perspective of a writer, it's obviously helpful to understand why people like stories, and what triggers they pull in their brains.

Of the different theories, I was most impressed by the approach of the evolutionary biologists. They suggest we like certain types of stories because they help us think through survival strategies. So for example, the bulk of women's fiction is about finding a suitable mate (except with a few jokes thrown in).

And what about crime and thrillers? I'd suggest it's about identifying danger, and how you'd cope with it.

It's certainly a different way of thinking about story construction.


  1. I think there's an element of catharsis in reading crime fiction. As a reader (and a writer!) you can 'act out' fears in a safe environment because you can control what is frightening. Just stop reading and close the book or, better still, finish the story (assuming the villain doesn't get away...) It also taps into our inate longing for justice, entering a world where 'good' triumphs in the end, with the villains safely locked up or killed and order restored to the universe.

  2. Some readers read because they are book addicts. They love adventure, thrills, watching characters grow, embracing different worlds and cultures, villains get their comeuppance....

    ...what can I say, other than books are great!