I recently read The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss, and I’d like to tell you how one of the main character Kvothe’s quotes encapsulates what I think is so beautiful about writing and art in general.
“It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.”
What do I make of this that relates to writing? Just as this quote leads Kvothe to a moment of tremendous insight, I glean a mission statement of sorts for writers who truly want to create something worth creating: Our storytelling must raise more life-related questions than answers if it’s to have any lasting depth.
Why are questions more important than answers in this case? The best art is, by nature, an interpretive medium. Writing (and art on the whole) carries more weight when it not only interacts with the feeling heart, but also with the thinking mind. The best way to mingle with the human brain is to raise questions.
When a story challenges us to see the world in a different light, when it dares to ask us, “What would you do in a situation like this?” suddenly that story has touched us on a far deeper level than one that merely stirs our emotions. The greatest writing pulls not only at the heartstrings, but also at the heavier chords of our thought processes.
How then is this aspect of writing beautiful? As I said before, the best art is an interpretive medium. Every reader comes to a story with different set of experiences and worldviews that lend to their perspectives on life. Because of these differences, every reader answers any question a writer raises differently, and it is in that wide diversity of answers that empathy forms between readers, and through that empathy, unity, and through that unity, mutual wisdom and respect.
And on the list of a wise man’s fears, an unanswerable question is not among them.