Sunday, April 10, 2011

Changing the World One Word at a Time. Kinda: Writing With a Message

Originally published during the Blue Fire blog tour on Buffy's Write Zone.
Every event I do, someone usually asks me if I’m trying to say “something profound” with my books. The “something” changes per asker, but it’s always along the lines of a grand theme, political statement, or a commentary on the way the world works:
  • Is the Healers’ League a metaphor for the health care crisis? 
  • Is the pynvium a symbol for oil and how our natural resources are drying up? 
  • Are the war orphans a statement on kids struggling with working or single parents?
I always say no, and this seems to surprise folks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be one of those writers with “something to say,” but my goal when I sit down to write a story is to tell a great story. I want to whisk a reader away and wrap my world and story around them and give them an opportunity to lose a few hours in literary bliss. The same things good books have always done for me.

However, I know that inspiration comes from everywhere. I don’t think it’s possible to write a story without the reality of the outside world creeping in, even on a subconscious level. So while I don’t plan for a greater meaning, or for anything I make up in my troubled fantasy world to be more than me causing trouble for my characters, I’m not surprised that some readers read more into it. I draw from what’s around me, so naturally current events might influence me. Same as current events influence readers.

And that tickles me to no end.

Because we find meaning all around us, same as inspiration. A topic we’re thinking about or struggling with suddenly pops out from the most unlikely places and gets us thinking. Our minds are looking for these connections so we can make sense of things. And one great way to explore an idea is to read about it or something similar.

By creating conflicts in stories, authors can give readers excuses to think about things in an abstract way. It’s a lot easier to debate a topic when it’s part of a fantasy world, or a made up town, or happening to pretend people. It’s safe. There’s no judgment. You can try on a strange idea and see how it fits. Some ideas will resonate with you, others will wig you out, but that’s okay. Stories open up a dialog—be it with yourself, your family, or your friends. And talking about stuff is good for the soul.

Which is maybe why authors love delving into tough topics that make people think. Because we’re also trying to figure things out, and through our stories, we get to be part of those conversations. And if one of those people goes on to change the world, well, maybe something we wrote helped make that difference.

Books are like that. Once they leave our imaginations they create imaginings of their own.


  1. I love a great story that does just that, leads you off into a million different themes and meanings and that you can find relevance to issues affecting your life... even if the book was written 100 years ago.

  2. Preachy characters with an in-your-face "message," are generally a turn-off for me, but I need characters with strong moral convictions, which perhaps are tested or challenged during the course of the story.

    If the characters don't have deeper things going on inside, they can't connect to a reader who does.

  3. Thanks for the post, Janice. Catharsis for our characters may indeed be catharsis for our selves.

  4. I have to agree with Writing Goddess, preachy characters are a turn off. There is a very fine line between having conviction and building a soapbox. When the character gets on the soapbox, it makes me cringe because the character has been hijacked by the author and he/she is inserting their own beliefs into the story.

  5. Danni: Me too. I think that's why those classics are so classic. They're still relatable.

    The Writing Goddess: Couldn't agree more.

    MDK: Most welcome!

    Robin: Exactly. There's that tone just shifts the whole novel to essay.