Great books search for meaning

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I read a great column that reviews the role of AI in some kinds of novels, but not in others. It puts things in focus about what kind of story is the biggest target opportunity for organic writing, the sort that machines can’t do.

To be clear, all of AI’s writing is something that needs a serious edit today, and for years to come. It deals in facts but leaves out unique insights and inventions. In short, it becomes easy for AI to write a story without deep context or meaning.

By defining what is easier for a machine to write, we settle upon what stories are best for humans to create. We fulfill our destiny and potential as authors when we make stories that have a sense of meaning. These stories explore the big elements of human life: Forgiveness, acceptance, selflessness, and redemption. Survival and rescue are things for a plot-driven book. Trust and faith are in the realm of the character-driven novel. Above it all is love. We draw meaning from courage, even when we fail.

Victor Frankel wrote his memoir of life in Nazi concentration camps by celebrating meaning. The book is Man’s Search for Meaning, because we can endure tragedy with less pain if we sacrifice for a reason.

The expert on the act of getting into creative flow, Mihaly Csikzentimihalyi, says that driving your writing toward meaningful sense makes you happier. “The process of discovery involved in creating something new appears to be one of the most enjoyable activities any human can be involved in.” This is why creativity drives meaning into our lives.

Without a search for meaning, your novel or nonfiction book can be superficial. Many superficial books are published every year, and some sell thousands of copies. They are the most easily mimicked books, though. An idea is a great launching point, but it’s not even the launch pad. Meaning, on the other hand, is the rocket fuel of story.

Making soulful choices

Characters and passionate experts have shining elements that we savor. Jessica Fletcher, the made-up detective novelist of Murder She Wrote, once said, “Character is the soul of plot.” What most people agree on today is that the AI engines of 2023 make soulless characters and stories.

Author Susan DeFrietas says in a recent newsletter, “If you want your novel to stand out from the competition, it has to have something extra. It has to have a sense of meaning.”

She adds that “One of the great challenges of our day, as writers, is to write at a level of depth that only a real human being can. To write the type of stories that another human being will immediately recognize as one that could only have been written by another real human.”

Dr. Eric Maisel is a psychologist for artists with many books about creating. He says that meaning-making is the most important goal in our storytelling. His book Fearless Creating is a step-by-step guide to starting and creating your work of art.

When something happens in our lives, or the lives of characters, it’s a beginning. But life says, “This happened.” And meaningful books? “This happened because…”

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