Thursday, December 9, 2010

Messages or Conversations

Reading thuRsday

Many of the people who give advice about writing are quick to say that nothing kills a story faster than having a "message." A corollary is that if you have a message, you shouldn't write fiction.

On the other hand, I really dislike books that aren't about anything (e.g., standard swords and sorcery that seem to be a chronicle of the violence perpetrated by a muscle-bound barbarian who is, apart from a few more scars, no different at the end).

I understand the dangers of allowing something about which you feel strongly to subvert your story, but if you don't have anything to say your story is, at best, nothing more than a "me-too" exercise.

So what's the difference between a message (bad) and something to say (good)? I think it's the difference between a conclusion you want to promote and an idea you want to explore. Put another way, it's the difference between a lecture and a conversation. Readers have no patience for the former but they're happy (sometimes eager) to engage in the latter.

The Great Books series from the University of Chicago was founded on the belief that the classics are part of a great conversation that has been going on for thousands of years. I like that idea because I believe the best new books contribute to that grand conversation.

How will you contribute to the grand conversation?

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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