The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

The Message Vs. The Story

Posted by BigWords on October 13, 2009

There’s something interesting about books which have agendas, and I’m never sure if I should be impressed or annoyed when I discover a deeper meaning in the work of an author. Ayn Rand is an obvious example, and L. Ron Hubbard is another (even if he isn’t as good a writer as Scientologists blindly believe)… I’m sure that most readers are familiar with those types of books which push a political or philosophical stance.

Is it right, though? Is it, when crafting a story, a requirement that some thought must go in to a work of fiction. I’m not sure if this is too close for me to call or not, because a lot of what I have written would be considered to contain an idea that “Chaos consumes all” and “Life is tough.” Those themes seem to come across when I sit back and armchair-analyze my own scribbles.

I owe a big debt to my reading material over the course of my childhood and teenage years for the crazier aspects of my work, and the numerous cult films I have devoured hungrily probably influenced more than a little of my world view. Trying to insert a message would be spotted right away (and everyone would call me on it immediately) so I’ve never deliberately added things which could be considered stances.

Ambiguity of politics, race and religious belief is a strength. If I don’t feel the need to promote being a certain kind of individual, then it isn’t going to come through in my work. Having said that, my writing is horrifically white… Which – being the lazy honky I am – flows easily and readily, irrespective of setting, character or era. I can’t help the fact that my characters come out a certain way.

Yet the race of my characters – and my own race – doesn’t, as far as I am concerned, bear much analysis. Same with politics, and I’m writing a lot of characters who have ideas that don’t fall into specific (and agreed-upon) political sets. I, and my creations, prefer to seek the intelligent answers to each political problem individually rather than follow the mainstream or counterculture blindly.

Religion is a tougher topic. One of my characters is very certainly a Christian (albeit a mass-murdering, psychotic and utterly irredeemable bastard), while another is shaping up to be some kind of Bhuddist-wise-man trope. I could never get over the initial stages of skepticism that is required where religion is concerned, but I’m trying (seriously, I am trying) to keep from pissing off the religiously minded.

Yet my non-beliefs aren’t playing a subliminal message in my work. I hope the agnosticism doesn’t come through too strongly, else it’ll handcuff my work, and I’m aware that there is a lot of religious folks out there…

And I come full circle to my original thought on messages-

They are interesting, and yet I have no idea why I find reading the books containing agendas so intriguing. Maybe it’s the fact that the authors believe strongly in their agendas, or because I can’t give myself into a single way of thinking so deeply that I feel the need to preach. It’s the other which exists beyond my grasp, and I’m perhaps slightly envious that some people know exactly where they fit into the universe.

Don’t get me wrong on this… I’m still annoyed when the last chapter is a monologue about how great everyone’s life would be if only they lived according to the author’s belief, or when the solution to a problem is a philosophical one, or when the MC turns out to be a political or religious figure in sheep’s clothing… The plot (and the story as a whole) should need no forced message if the message is so powerful, yet this type of story turns up a lot.

And this is where I’m stuck. This is the bit where I’m meant to come up with a clear-cut answer. This is where I’m meant to have some insight.

Nope. Not a single easy answer.

I’m not sure if I’m missing the message, agenda or whatthefuckever in my work, or if there is a dwindling pool of original ways to look at the universe, but I don’t think I need to push a world-view. It will come out in my work whether I want it to or not, as sure as the fact that most of my characters will be annoying crackers. They are a part of me, and I will influence them… And I am a bad influence.

Quick story (I promise):

I read C.S. Lewis when I was eight or nine years old, having found it in the library own my own. The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. I didn’t know anything about the book, hadn’t heard of the story and couldn’t care less about the Christian roots of the book (which I had yet to discover). Got to hand it to Lewis… I LOVED that book. It rang a bell in my brain that didn’t stop ringing for weeks.

Why, you ask? The message is pretty blatant, and his writing is clunky in places…

It has a talking lion. A. Talking. Lion. And, if you doubt me just ask any kid, a talking lion is up there with aliens blasting ray-guns, white-hatted cowboys and knights on white horses. The fact that he can come back from the dead and kick ass just like Obi Wan made my love of that book last until I hit high school and discovered there was a book about a guy who did the same thing a couple of thousand years ago.

That revelation killed the book stone dead in my eyes. Never picked it up again.

Maybe the messages authors want to deliver, and the messages which readers take away, aren’t always so close as would be thought.


2 Responses to “The Message Vs. The Story”

  1. euclid said

    Hi Gary.

    I think you’re right that books with obvious “messages” or moral stances are a pain in the A, but it’s also true that every book of fiction should have a central theme.

    I had a crawl around you blog-space, but failed to find out whether you’e had anything published. Have you?

  2. bigwords88 said

    Nope. Nothing worth mentioning anyway (the crap-which-shall-remain-unspoken-of will not be alluded to here), and it may be because I have yet to work out how to brainwash readers with some hidden meaning…

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