A book with a message

Does your work have a message? While I’d hazard a guess that most writers tend to write books or stories that support their worldviews, there are some who write books or short stories to deliver the message. I’m thinking foremost about Christian literature, but there are also large numbers of books that carry much more subtle messages.

Before you dismiss those books as ‘preaching’, think about it: haven’t you ever learnt anything, or changed your mind, no matter how insignificantly, because of something you read in a work of fiction?
I’m pretty sure everyone has done this. Every book carries many different messages. Usually, they’re buried deep in the text. Usually, they can be interpreted in more than one way.

Some examples off the top of my head, The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi has several environmental messages. The most simplistic would be that all genetic engineering is bad, but you could also interpret the book as a warning that we should look better after our genetic heritage. The simple message you could take from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is that government is bad and reality TV is hideous. More subtle messages could be that common people will survive no matter what authorities do to them.

We don’t know what either author intended to say with the book, and that doesn’t really matter. The relationship of a reader with a book is one the author has little control over.

But say, you wanted to make sure that the reader understand and hears your message, but without being preachy.

Here is my take on inserting a message into a book:

The strongest opinions can be put in the mouths of your characters with nary a rise on the preachiness scale. Just make sure that the character’s opinion is not being bandied as the only right way to live, because this very quickly turns your character into a jerk.

Make sure that you leave plenty of space for the readers to think and draw their own conclusions.
Make the character put up some arguments against your message for a more balanced view. If you do this in dialogue, don’t resolve the discussion one way or another; characters should be allowed to have different opinions.

I always find it interesting to construct a story such that each reader can take home his or her own message, the message they are prepared to hear. Accept that some people will not agree with you about the underlying values of the story.

When your book or story makes the reader think in one way or another, you have succeeded.

That’s my take on messages in books. What about you?


3 comments on “A book with a message

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention A book with a message « Must Use Bigger Elephants -- Topsy.com

  2. It is, sometimes, nice to take a deeper, hidden meaning away from a reading experience. But, personally, I can’t stand preachy prose–even if I’m in line behind the message. I think the most important thing to keep in mind if you are inserting a message is, as you said, “Make sure that you leave plenty of space for the readers to think and draw their own conclusions.”

    I’m happy to rate a story as either enjoyable or dull based on no other criteria than whether it was enjoyable or dull. While I do enjoy fiction that makes me think, I primarily read fiction to escape, so I’d rather that a story doesn’t make me think too much 🙂

    • This is exactly what I mean. There can be a message in a book, but once it’s there in too obvious form, people are turned off. In other words, if a writer has some worldview they would like to weave into their fiction, they have to do it very carefully.

      I quite like fiction that challenges present thoughts and does something unusual with our preconceptions.

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