A good story should be like an ogre - it should have layers.
I read some comments from the "issues" thread that were bothersome to me. There seems to be a train of thought out there that stories should just be for entertainment. I couldn't disagree more. In my view, entertainment should be only one facet of a good story. I believe this correlates with what Kathleen stated about ideas - that a good story should have more than one idea.
I find it ironic that most people here often talk about movies as being vehicles of propaganda, pontificating various political or social viewpoints. Gee, that sounds deep for a story about blue aliens that talk to trees. How is it that it is so easy to suggest that movies have deeper meanings, but that we should want to write stories that don't?
That's hypocritical if you ask me. I do not wish to write trite or shallow stories. I don't think anyone else here does either. There should be many layers to a good story. Entertainment, theme, conflict, characterization, speculative ideas, societal implications, irony, and yes, even symbolism and emotional reflection are possibilities with which to layer a story. In my opinion, a shallow story draws a shallow audience (in perception as well as size).
I know I was one of the people to mention entertainment in the other thread. I think it is important to note, that I agree a story should have layers. I just don't agree with assessing the story tellers mental state.
In order for a story to be entertaining, IMO, it has to be engaging and tell a story. I want layers of meaning and deeper ideas in my stories (both that I write and read).
Entertainment and a layered "meaning" go hand in hand.
I am not sure I fully understand your viewpoint.
Are you saying that if a writer's goal is to simply entertain they will more than likely put out a shallow story? So, for a story to be considered good the writer must purposefully and consciously include some sort of lesson, social commentary, or symbolism in order to provide fodder for the critical reader?
This almost sounds like an argument between what is literary fiction versus commercial fiction, as if one exists to the exclusion of the other. Personally I believe many authors whose works we consider classic literature nowadays simply set out to write stories to entertain, and therefore hopefully sell. That these stories transcended their original commercial purpose is simply a spillover of the "write what you know" aphorism.
Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Fitzgerald, Edgar Allan Poe, et al. wrote what they knew and they did so with unabashed honesty. That modern readers continue to find pleasure in their writing is because these authors drew from their "issues," whether consciously or not, and used writing as a creative outlet.
When I write, especially with novels, I almost always have a deep message (psychological or otherwise) tied with either one book or the whole seires. Also, I always make up a quote to further ephasize the message. I guess to me it gives the reader more of a reason to read and study it.
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Quoting myself, "...are possibilities with which to layer a story."
No, I do not believe a story has to have symbolism or a social message to be a good story. But I do believe it has to have more than the sole purpose of entertainment. I do not believe I have ever read a story, at least not a novel, with this as its only purpose. I might have seen a few movies like this, but its hard to say. Most everything, in my opinion, has some sort of meaning. Otherwise, doesn't it make it meaningless?
I think that a layered story comes out of a layered writer, nothing can exist in the story that doesn't first exist in the writer. So I think trying is a mistake. Refining skill by practice is one thing, but that is about expression of what is already there.
If a writer feeds on meaningful things they will write meaningful things whether they intend to or not because it has become part of their nature (their soil).
As for entertainment, I think we all would agree that engagement is important (otherwise why would anyone bother to read or write the story?). But what I take as the danger of entertainment is perhaps writing something that doesn't really come out of your own nature, ie I think it would sell to write a story about a 100+ yr old vampire falling in love with a teenager at a high school...I could "try" to write it but it would have no life to it because my hearts not in it. It's a dead story...now if I changed to be about a guy who sees the vamp thing going on and is like "dude, that ain't right" and then slays the vampire to save the girl from her obsession with the undead...now that's a story =)
Well, I know what I mean at least. Entertainment fails when it is TRYING. If it's a natural expression of the writer...it's good.
Every work of art can be viewed within a specific discourse and context, but that has little to do with the value of entertainment.
Most archetypes we see in stories are rooted in the western narrative, so it's a given that we attach some symbolism to it (even on a subconscious level). However, if all you do is desiccate the story without having some emotional involvement (which is one of the primary aims of entertainment), you will not have a fully rounded experience. It's not only messages OR entertainment; those two go often hand-in-hand, in my opinion.
Having taken a few literary classes and read a few books considered "deep" by the intellectual elite, I'm somewhat leery of conversations that involve how deep a story is, or trying to find hidden meanings in things. It seems like it's usually just a bunch of big-headed jerks arguing over the metaphysical significance of candle wax on the floorboards.
Good stories come from good storytellers, and great stories come from great storytellers. And the stories will be great because they'll entertain us while at the same time showing us a mirror of ourselves, a fresh perspective on human nature and a unique understanding of the way the world is.
I'm all for mysticism that's relevant to the story's world and gives the plot a surprise twist, but when literary critics start arguing about why there were five men silhouetted on the wall and what the significance of that number means that's when I bow out and go find an interesting book to read.
quote:I'm all for mysticism that's relevant to the story's world and gives the plot a surprise twist, but when literary critics start arguing about why there were five men silhouetted on the wall and what the significance of that number means that's when I bow out and go find an interesting book to read.
quote:Good stories come from good storytellers, and great stories come from great storytellers. And the stories will be great because they'll entertain us while at the same time showing us a mirror of ourselves, a fresh perspective on human nature and a unique understanding of the way the world is.
There are times when I want a simple story well told, and spare me the philosophy and deeper meaning.
Let's say I've had a bad day and want to escape into a book, turn off my critical brain, and just enjoy the story. Call it escapism if you like, but there are days when I need this. It seems that millions of other people with complex, conflict-filled lives do as well.
On these occasions I don't want my world-view shaken, or my consciousness raised, or my eyes opened. I just want a dependable story from someone I trust who delivers what I need: a story where the world makes sense and I know the rules, where personal character matters, where actions have direct and foreseeable consequences, and the good guy or gal wins in the end. I want my values reconfirmed, because that means I'm not a chump, and when I get up in the morning and go to work instead of sleeping in I can do it feeling okay about my life.
It occurs to me that this class of story provide the same benefits to me that watching sports does for the more athletically-inclined. The conventions of genre substitute for the rules of the sport, and even if the players are familiar, the outcome is uncertain.
This class of stories is often blessedly shallow, and while not quite 'trite', the best conform to convention while remaining fresh. Stuffing stories like this full of meaning and ideas, adding complexity and layering would defeat their purpose.
I admire people who can dependably write stories like this and aspire to have the chops one day to do so. It's harder than I imagined it to be.
So, story as pure entertainment? There are days when that's all I can bear.
I definitely fall on the 'deeper meaning' side of the fence when it comes to writing. In fact, I have a story idea that I haven't put to paper simply because I don't have an underlying theme to carry the story.
For me, one of the pillars of great storytelling is that it entertains us while exploring the human condition. Science fiction is especially valuable in exploring how the human condition will be changed by future technologies.
My hope is that the stories I produce will satisfy those who simply want entertainment and engage those who want themes to interpret and discuss.
Hmm, for me it depends on the how deep the deeper meaning is, I guess. I don't want to be throttled with message when I'm reading. If it's part of the story and woven in with the characters, that's fine, but there can definitely be too much.
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Coralm, if it overshadows the story itself, it is definitely a problem. It ceases to be a story and instead becomes exposition. I learned that the hard way with the very first piece I ever wrote, and I'm glad I learned that lesson the way I did.
So, messages, I think, are effectively delivered in a story if it is almost at a subconscious level, where the reader perhaps sympathizes with the plight of a character, say, with some disability. When the reader experiences the challenges the character faces, the authors message (advocating for the particular disability) becomes something seamlessly delivered into the readers subconscious.
I was part of a reading group for 8 years until we moved to the northeast and I joined a group here. I'm a bookstore junkie and a library rat, diggin up good reads from cashiers, librarians, teachers, friends, kids....
Here's what I learned:
People read for different reasons. We have different motivators.
No one in my book groups read Sci FI!!!! or YA or fantasy! imagine? My spouse reads non-fiction, biography, etc. Bookies in the group, one would only read mystery/thriller/suspense [ a real escape reader.] The cashier at B&N yesterday read only non-fiction. There was a stage in life when I read self-help! GADS. Ok, I still do but very selective.
I convinced the group to read classics once a year, maybe more. Sometimes, you just want to read the bible - talk about preachy.
Books serve different needs. It's like food, you can't have all entrees, sometimes you just need an appetizer and others you crave for dessert. Each has its place. I even like novelty books, you need something in the bathroom!
There's a degree of elitism with books and the self anointed literati and I'm not sure one is 'better' than the other. It depends on the readers, but don't be afraid to look at book sales too :-) So here's to all the genres and forms!
My original post was a response to comments that seemed to strongly denounce literary theory as a valid approach to literature. People seem to take the first classroom scene of Dead Poets Society and begin running with it with reckless abandonment. However, later in that movie, Williams's character tries to get the class to understand the meanings behind the words of a certain poem. Poetry cannot be truly understood without looking at deeper meanings - even in "Girl from Nantuckit" stuff. I would suggest this is true for art, and even music.
In taking these expressions in, there are many factors to consider - entertainment, aesthetics, intentions, meaning(s), responses, and yes, even the artist. Sure, you can enjoy it with only deciding whether or not you were entertained, but that does not negate these other factors. You may not care, but they are still there. I believe these factors affect stories as well.
I do not believe that there are hidden meanings in every part of every story. There ARE stories that first and foremost seek to entertain. However, no one writes in a vacuum. We deal largely with archetypes where we have certain preconceived ideas that either run with or against norms. To one person a vampire represents evil and to another, excitement. Is a vampire ever just a vampire? Sure, but not in the same way that a cigar is sometimes just a cigar. We learn the nature of the beast in a story, and then it stops being just a beast, but a person or a monster. THAT IS MEANING!
People have mentioned classic writers such as Austen, Dickens, Twain, Poe, etc. These writers did not write about their societies with ambivalence toward their woes. No more than anyone here could write about suppression, poverty, or other questions of morality without having an opinion and emotions. We know these writers' opinions mostly from the nonfiction they wrote, and so people then begin to piece things together like we do when we watch a movie about blue aliens talking to trees or an elitest who is willing to do just about anything to become wealthy. In the same way, The Shining can be entertaining, but carries a much deeper meaning when you know King suffered from addiction.
There are stories that have many layers of meaning and stories that have one meaning but with many layers. There are many ways of doing this. Grimm's Faerie Tales have incredible depth and are fairly simple. The Lord of the Rings is fairly complex, and also has much to say. Can one enjoy these just for entertainment? Sure. Can they be more? Most certainly.
I have known people who could not spot satire if it hit them like a flyswatter in the face. They took it merely at face value (without the stinging pain). They didn't enjoy it, because they felt it was offensive, that it was propagating what it was trying to denounce. They were not entertained. However, the reverse can also be true. People can be so entertained, that they miss the message. I suppose that is fine, but I find it especially bothersome when the message is denied all together. And I apologize if I missed what was intended to be satire.
I suppose I sound angry about this, and I apologize if this is how I am coming across. It really isn't so much anger as it is disappointment. I purposely layer my writing with everything I can pile on while trying to make my stories entertaining at the same time. They are like Easter Eggs are in video games. I have done well here in the contests I have entered, and hopefully those who have read my stories can attest to their entertainment value. But deeper meanings are also important to me. I suspect they are and have been to others as well; many are painfully obvious in the classics. To have someone negate this is disappointing.
This all started by talking about the value of crawling around in people's heads. But I find value in perspective as well. I enjoy reading about Einstein just as much as I do about Poe. To ignore how they became who they were, diminishes one's understanding of their work. You can still enjoy and even benefit from their work, but you don't have that same feeling about it (or even understanding) until you know a little about the person who imagined it.
I believe every story has a deeper meaning whether the author consciously intends it to or not. I believe every reader gets a deeper meaning from the story whether he/she realizes it or not.
There is a reason that there are stories we want to tell. There is a reason we chose specific characters and build specific worlds. All this may happen subconsciously, but it is still there whether we realize it or not. Nothing in the story just happens to be there IMO.
I've noticed in the stories that I have written and want to write that there are common themes and archetypes that I use over and over again. I'm not really sure why, and I honestly don't want to psychoanalyze myself. And I really don't know if I want to understand it because I fear that I may make the message too heavy handed, but I know there is something there. My guess is if you look at your stories, you will see a pattern too.
I mean, why do we want to be writers if we don't have anything to say? I think we all do whether we realize it or not.
I like reading for purely for entertainment sake like everyone else. But really, why are we drawn to certain stories? Why do some stories resonate with us more than others? Couldn't it be that there are deeper meanings and themes in these books that speak to us at the subconscious level? I think there is.
If you don't want to analyze everything you read or write, that is fine. I totally get that. But just because you don't look for it, doesn't mean it isn't there.
[This message has been edited by MAP (edited March 31, 2011).]
Philocinemas, In conversation today, do you notice how frequently you find the other person thinking only of what they want to say next? That they completely miss what others share, think or say.
I read your last post several times, paying attention to every point you made. I found myself agreeing with each idea. Literary theory has its place and deeper meaning is essential in my reading and writing. So Iím glad you are not angry but took the time instead to explain.
You mentioned the Shining and Kingís personal history as relevant to its creation. And, it is. Hereís what King says about it in his book, On Writing.
ďHoly sh**, Iím an alcoholic, I thought, and there was no dissenting opinion from inside my head Ė I was, after all, the guy who had written The Shining without even realizing that I was writing about myself.Ē
Perhaps what makes his work compelling and so loved is he wrote the story and was surprised where it took him. It is not contrived, it is real. In fact, it was lived. When he received a distinguished writing award, the literati were up in arms and spewed forth cynicism because he was a commercial writer. This is where I am disappointed with the elitism in the writing world. Those who teach literary theory would deny him this despite the fact that his books have sold over 350 million copies. Heís not a writerís writer, heís the pulp fiction meister. Some treat OSC in the same fashion.
Philip Roth, by contrast, is hailed as the writerís writer and for me, itís a struggle to get through his works. Iíve read them and have his latest book collecting dust on the shelf. He doesnít have the multitude of readers like King but heís a titan in the literary world. Heís THE novelist. At times, his message and meaning is so transparent and contrived, itís painful to read. We invited a literature professor to one of our discussions and she shared heís her favorite author.
quote: In my opinion, a shallow story draws a shallow audience (in perception as well as size).
It is this concept that is controversial. When the literary world dubs King, OSC or Stephenie Meyer a lesser writer, perhaps more shallow, because they donít have Roth-esque like meaning in their work, thatís hard to stomach.
Knowing readers personally who read thrillers, mystery or romance exclusively, I donít find them shallow in the least, or what they choose to read. They are complex people with fascinating experiences, insights and passions. They may not be students of literary theory and yes, they may miss the parody and satire that hits them in the face. But shallow they are not. The literati and their ilk resemble that when they demean popular writers for their success.
I hope you will consider my points here and earlier. Readers read for different reasons. A storyís success and resonance with its readers does have meaning on many levels and I love to reread the classics and award winners to understand why than are Ďgreat.í Doesnít mean I think they are great but it broadens my understanding and appreciation.
Thanks for taking the time to write your post. It's clear we are both passionate about writing.
"If you've gotta message, use Western Union."
I think if you have a message, as a deeper layer in your story, one that you're trying to share with the reader, you're on solid ground. But if you're trying to send a message in this so-called "deeper layer," to force it on the reader, you're likely to wind up with all your "deeper layer" in the shallow places---and the reader will resent having his nose rubbed in it.
Take the difference between Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Lewis's Narnia series. Somebody once said [something along the lines of] where Tolkien used a delicate brush to make his point, Lewis laid it on with a trowel.
quote:I think if you have a message, as a deeper layer in your story, one that you're trying to share with the reader, you're on solid ground. But if you're trying to send a message in this so-called "deeper layer," to force it on the reader, you're likely to wind up with all your "deeper layer" in the shallow places---and the reader will resent having his nose rubbed in it.
This was exactly my point, but you said it so much better than I did.
If your story has a message, great. If your wrote your story as a vehicle for that message, not so great.
I consider King an excellent writer who is very adept at layering his stories. I have read very few novels that were not well-layered.
Grayhog, you make a good point about my "shallow" comment. I apologize for suggesting that readers of shallow stories are shallow as well. That was an unfair statement. I have watched shallow movies and enjoyed them, so I could see how people could enjoy a shallow story. I am sorry if that statement hurt anyone.
I am sure there have been some shallow stories that were very successful, so if anyone wants to write shallow stories, then more power to you.
Truth to tell, I never could see that much depth in Stephen King's works---a great deal of interest, plenty of imagery that can haunt you, but nothing that has much meaning once one puts his work down. (Or at least not to me.)
On the other hand...Tolkien, for example, puts his characters in moral dilemmas, often ones that have resonance for the modern reader. (Since Frodo failed and betrayed the quest by claiming the Ring for his own, should he be praised or condemned for it?) In addition to that, there's the depth that the historic and philological details and scholoarship bring to the story.
King's stuff only rarely has any more than it needs to get it going along.
quote:I am sure there have been some shallow stories that were very successful, so if anyone wants to write shallow stories, then more power to you.
There's a short story by Ayn Rand titled, "The Simplest Thing in the World", in which the protagonist contemplates writing a shallow story. I found Rand's story both entertaining and thought provoking when I read it years ago. Your comment brought it to mind.
[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited March 31, 2011).]
I like your pool analogy. I used food, but yours fits perfectly.
Thank you for the story which I will read and actually might have if it's part of the Romantic Manifesto. On another note, CONGRATS on your 1st place award for Writer of the Future. I may have the title wrong but this is the Ron Hubbard contest. Your web site design is nice and easy to read. Which makes me think I need to update my own, which is gray. :-)
I agree with you on King and have not read a lot of his books. I do think his work on writing is among the best and even though I don't read him, what he has to say is powerful as well as helpful.
We agree more than we disagree. :-)
[This message has been edited by Grayhog (edited April 01, 2011).]
Well, I didn't stop reading King on a regular basis because I thought he was shallow-compared-to-Tolkien...that thought came later...I liked a lot of his stuff, but there was stuff of his I didn't like...and in his fiction, and in the on-and-off column he did for Entertainment Weekly, I thought an uncomfortable amount of arrogance crept into the mix. ("This is the way it is, and there is no other.")
I might read something of his in the future---in fact, I can pretty much guarantee I will read something of his---but, right now, I'm not, and I won't.
I haven't read every post so excuse me if this is a repeat.
Many books do have a deeper meaning than just an entertaining story, I think at one time every story was suppose to have one. That included "Frankenstein" by Mary (how ever you spell her last name). On the surface was one story but as you looked at the characters and situations you could see something from real life.
In fact I've heard that SF books, among other types, are suppose to have some type of message, something that shows or comments on some segment of society. By doing this it makes the story worth something other than just a distraction. Which I personally see no harm in but evidently some do. But a Moral justifies the SF story and at least partially brings it into the mainstream of novels instead of a side corner some place.
Many novels do have a deeper meaning or are thought to have, This came to mind because of the comment about blue skin alien movies having hidden purposes.
"Ferdinand the Bull" written in 1936 was said to be pacifistic and/or socialistic.
I personally don't think a story has to have a deeper meaning or moral but at the same time as long as it isn't to deep it's not bad to have one.
It turns out that my "Bright Lights and Chaos" novel has one after all. I didn't set out to write a tale with a moral but I don't mind it has one. It's a nice one. Other writers have stated the same thing, thye didn't set out to write a story that had a message but they got one after all.
One more thing. As I hinted even though I don't want to write trite stories I wouldn't mind writing one that was "just" for entertainment or a distraction. And I don't mind reading one for either of those reasons. In Fact as a reader I don't want to have to dig for any meaning or deeper purpose, if it is obvious that is one thing but I don't want to peel an onion or ogre too far to find what the story is really about.
[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited April 01, 2011).]
Of course, the ultimate problem with the search for deeper meaning is that it leads to the finding of meaning that isn't there. There's a recent theory that L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz is a parable of late 19th century American politics, with the Wizard supposedly William Jennings Bryan and so on and so forth. (I forget the precise details of who was what.)
What with the influence of Jacques Derrida and deconstructionism, it's often a tenet of modern criticism that anything can mean [/i]anything[/i]...which might help a candidate for a Ph. D. in Lit. Crit. bull his way through his dissertation, but for us real writers, it's of minimal use if at all...
Once upon a time I wrote a little poem, that I can tell you for a fact has NO "deeper meaning" -- it was nothing more than a straightforward condensation of a particular fantasy novel's plot.
And, I'm an atheist.
To my surprise, this piece gets all manner of deep-thinker religious interpretations -- in fact, that seems to be the default response, to believe it's about Christ vs Satan, or something to that effect.
You never know what readers are going to see, even if your intent was the opposite or completely nonexistent.
I think stories are a lot like music. People will interpitate them all differently. I have found a different meanings for music I have heard based on my own mood, feelings, and views on life. Often (if not all of the time) the artist is laster interviewed and says the song was about something completelty different.
The same would be true of stories. I thing the deeper meanings found are often for about the reader then the author.
One way to look at this is that any work of art--story, painting, sculpture, music, whatever--is collaborative.
By that I mean that the meaning of the work is created jointly by the artist and the audience, and since the audience, as EVOC has pointed out, may approach a work differently each time (and be "coming from" a different space in their lives), the meaning can change every time a work of art is engaged by any member of the work's audience.
Asimov tells a story about going to hear someone lecture on his short story, "Nightfall," and being flabbergasted (my word, not his) to hear what the lecturer found in his story. Afterwards, he went up and introduced himself and told the lecturer that he hadn't put any of that into the story when he wrote it. He was told that just because he was the writer didn't mean he knew everything that was in that story.
So I submit that the artist doesn't own the monopoly on the meaning of the art that artist creates. Without an audience, there really may be no art at all.
quote: Asimov tells a story about going to hear someone lecture on his short story, "Nightfall," and being flabbergasted (my word, not his) to hear what the lecturer found in his story. Afterwards, he went up and introduced himself and told the lecturer that he hadn't put any of that into the story when he wrote it. He was told that just because he was the writer didn't mean he knew everything that was in that story.
I think that speaker had a point. Even though this may not be what the speaker meant, I think writers can put things in a story subconsciously. C.S. Lewis is a prime example, I believe. Evidently he swore up and down that the Chronicles of Nanria wasn't a christian allegory or anything along those lines but there are Christian symbols in it. He didn't set it to do that but since he was a christian they snuck in anyway.
I found that in some of my stories, symbols of my belief system have gotten in, a couple of times that wasn't completely subconsciously but I didn't set out to do it either.
I recently read one novel I have mentioned on another thread or two. In it basically the writer says that paganism is superior to Christianity and/or Judaism- in age and strictness if nothing else. I don't know if the author is a pagan and/or down on Christianity but it comes across that way. She may not have set out to say that but it got in there anyway.
There are lots of such examples when it comes to a writer's beliefs, including environmentalism and political systems. Some writer's probably do have some very deep things to say on may different levels while others just have certain opinions on the surface
Obviously I could have heard wrong as I try to recall a class I took on Lewis many years ago. I must have Lewis mixed up with a critic or two we studied because I can recall someone saying that Aslan isn't an allegory of Jesus. If it wasn't Lewis than my apologies, my swiss cheese memory strikes again.
But in either case "The Lord of the Rings" does have Christian symbolism in it, which seems to have snuck in.
quote:It was Tolkien who insisted there was no allegory in his work.
Tolkien overstated a little...he did indulge in allegory in "Leaf by Niggle" and "Smith of Wooton Major," at least...but also to a certain extent in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings...
...though again not to the extent some of the commentaries would have you believe, like it being a commentary on World War II or the atomic bomb or somesuch...
The story about Asimov and the lecturer is in his memoirs, among other places...and, among other things, the lecturer promulgated a theory of civilization being native to the Old World and alien to the New World, and how stars were seen as benign or good in the Old World and as harbingers of madness in the New World ("Nightfall" being an illustration of this theory.)
I have to dismiss this notion and theory, and, in particular, the notion that this is the implication of the story. Asimov didn't quite go that far in his comments on it, but they did make me think he thought it, well, a bit much...
Asimov also had a story from his days with John W. Campbell, where Campbell equates work as an editor as the equivalent of seeing the back of Asimov's head---he can see things in the story (and point out how they could be corrected), that Asimov couldn't.
I contend that "art" is "showing me something I would not have seen with just my own eyes". It doesn't really matter what that is. Could be a message, a perspective, or just drawing my attention to something I'd otherwise not notice (as with photography-as-art -- I could look at the same scene in Real Life, but I might not see the same details or emphasis without the photo to point them out).
That said... in fiction, if the author bludgeons me with his message, I guarantee that will be the last time I read anything of his. I read purely for escapism; I don't CARE about your 'message' and I don't want to hear it.
I would like to reiterate that by 'deeper meaning' I did NOT necessarily mean a message. Messages are only one means of layering a story. However, that said, there is a very thin line between message and theme. If theme is a more 'acceptable' term, then theme it shall be.
Regardless, evaluating a story through ideas of theme, symbolism, socio-political comparisons, allegory, etc., etc. in no way denigrates the entertainment value of a story. You may never read it the same way, but I don't see this as a bad thing. I like a story that I can read over and over again and get something different from it each time. Reading something over and over again and never getting anything new out of it does not sound enjoyable at all to me. Yes, heavy-handedness on the part of the author can have negative effects on a story. My main argument was that the reverse can be true as well.
quote:That said... in fiction, if the author bludgeons me with his message, I guarantee that will be the last time I read anything of his. I read purely for escapism; I don't CARE about your 'message' and I don't want to hear it.
What is "message"? One of my favorite short stories is "The Liberation of Earth", which many think is a satire on the Vietnam War due to its anti-war message (it's not, it was inspired by the Korean War and was published prior to the Vietnam War). It does bludgeon you with a message, but in such an entertaining way that I was left wanting to read more from the author.
Every story has some sort of message, something that the author want to give to the reader - even if it is as simple as "this story is worth reading" (entertainment value). Simple "Idea" stories generally have the message that the idea has some novelty. Milieu stories hold the message "come and look at this place I've imagined". Character oriented stories generally have a message about some sort of conflict - how that is resolved is the real message of such stories, and resonance occurs if the conflict is resolved in a way that both seems right to the reader and right to the reader's impression of the character's viewpoint. All these stories can hold other messages too - there can be more than one message in a single story.
So, I propose the following definitions.
Message: That overarching meaning(s) in a story that the author wants you to understand.
Theme: That overarching meaning(s) in a story that the reader receives.
These can meld into a single message/theme when a) the author writes in a strategic way that introduces ambiguity into the meaning, allowing the reader to develop or choose from a myriad of paths through the ambiguities, and b) when the unconscious assumptions of the author emerge in the story, often fully compliant with the author's beliefs but not deliberately added by the author.
When symbolism, allegory and even direct comparisons (eg. satire) are introduced, they necessarily introduce ambiguity, because these generally have implied meaning rather than explicit meaning. Even the interplay of voice (or the tone of the story) with POV can introduce such ambiguity. As with philo, I can quite enjoy the additional meaning that comes with message and theme.
I must note, it is a rare story that pounds a message that I react to if I agree with the message. It is more likely that I react to the story that has a message opposite to those that I agree with. But even that reaction may be the one that the author is attempting to extract.
I think one of the best examples for me of a badly-placed message that made me despise the creator was M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening." It was a poorly-written movie that seemed to serve no purpose other than to say, "Hey, if you don't stop doing whatever it is you're doing to destroy the earth then plants are going to start releasing pheromones that make you kill yourself. To put it more simply people who trash the planet should die."
I don't necessarily disagree with this message, I'm just annoyed that it's preached to me. Especially by duckbag filmmakers living in California who I'm positive don't practice what they preach. In fact the most they usually contribute to "the earth" is flying their private jets that take as much fuel as an SUV uses in a year to make a single trip to an "energy conservation awareness fundraiser."
So yes, I did just go off on a rant. Because when I go to enjoy something and instead I get a message based on the creator's own opinions and prejudices hammered at me, I get a bit annoyed.
It's great when a story has a message. But if the message is why they made the story then they'd better be subtle about it or it often sucks.
To me there's a common meaning and a complicated meaning to everything. The common meaning is how people (or a single person) perceive it and the complicated meaning is what it actually means. I use this aspect with all the messages I put in my books.
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Nate, that is a great example of the kind of meaning that I dislike. I never actually saw that movie, because I'd had enough of his preaching in some of his previous works. Thankfully, I think movies are much more prone to this than books.
Avatar is a movie that everyone seemed to love that was way too much message for my taste. "Look at how evil humans are, we're killing this magical planet to mine it!" Ugh. While I'll grant you that terrible things happen for money all the time I don't need to be hit over the head with it. I couldn't even enjoy the story because the "deeper meaning" was so heavy-handed. How much electricity was wasted to send that message, I wonder?