Way back in my days of (semi) innocence, I was a creative writing major, and took creative writing fiction classes to advance towards that degree. I remember vividly sitting in the class near the end of the semester, a rough semester at that where I felt a certain disposition towards my classmates and my TA (but that's another story).
During one day, the TA asked a question which I thought there was an obvious answer, and really the only answer that had any merit. Just for reference, I maintain my stance. The question was simply, this: "Why do we write?"
My answer, as simple as could be: "To tell stories."
I was given a very tiny amount of lip service, but it was clear that she wanted something more. I really couldn't think of what that might be. The TA moved on, and fished for something more, to which another student answered, "To send a message," which the TA and several others echoed their approval.
It didn't really occur to me to do that, and I really didn't think that I wanted to read a bunch of heavy handed stories where I was being lectured at by the author. I just didn't think that it would be very enjoyable. Mostly I thought that my TA and class were a bunch of crackpots who were far too concerned with conceptions of high art than storytelling, and kind of disregarded that.
That changed when I came to begin the road to querying. I read over famous blogs and query attempts, mostly from The Janet Reid where she states more than once on the Query Shark again and again that stories that are all about the message (that is just one example out of many on the blog. Go ahead, read them all. I'll wait.) are generally not the ones agents and editors are looking for. More than that, it kind of nailed home an idea that a lot of these writers focus on is the message where they report about what themes they deal with in the book, and what messages they want to convey instead of the events of the plot, and the choices that characters face.
Whenever I conceive of a story, I start with the characters, and then come up with some events which set the stage for the story. I don't think about any type of message in the story whatsoever. It's not my purpose. My purpose has always been to tell a story that I thought was interesting.
Now, that is not to say that I don't think I deal with some issues and convey some kind of message, but it's far down on the list of things I do. I'm not even fully sure of what messages I'm articulating as I write these stories. I'm more about presenting issues and questions, and have my characters deal with them. I try not to be prescriptive with how the characters deal with these questions. I just show how the characters have done it. The reader is able to take away whatever they wish from it. Of course, that leads to something else, which I'll cover in another post.
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