I once talked to an artist about some possible collaboration and he responded that he didn’t want to do anything that had a message to it; he just wanted to do pure entertainment. I thanked him for his response as I have great respect for his art…then thought how terribly wrong he is.
All fiction has a point, a meaning, a message. For those my age and greater, this idea might come as a bit of a shock as we were often told by our high school English teachers that if it wasn’t literature or if it couldn’t be found in the literature textbooks, then it was worthless, not worth reading.
Fortunately, times have changed, or are changing (I really cringe at the “change” word these days!). At one point in time, only the educated elite could determine for the rest of us, who of course had no opinion, what was “good” and what wasn’t. Any fiction that was accepted by the uneducated masses couldn’t be any good. As a comic book reader, that used to always confuse me—I KNEW there were great things about some of the comics I read. Then someone accidentally let slip the information that even the now-considered-literary-genius William Shakespeare wrote for the uneducated masses of his time. Boy, talk about a bubble bursting.
So now I find it funny that we’re seeing some of this kind of thinking in reverse. To think that there is “entertainment” without a point is just … well, ridiculous. And by reverse, I think I mean much of where I hear that now comes from the actual creative voices themselves. Generally, entertainment without a message isn’t even entertaining.
I will concede that a bad story is just bad and may be without any redeeming qualities, including entertainment. But, for the sake of this blogversation (is that a word?), let’s assume we’re meaning any fiction that has the required elements to be a story and isn’t just words tossed together. All stories have a meaning. Some may be intentional and obvious, some may be unintentional and less obvious, but the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Some writers might try for the less obvious message and do so intentionally. Some writers may not mean to make a point and are just trying to tell a good story—but if we examine those stories, we’ll see they have a point of some sort.
All writers, whether religious or not, have an internal moral (or immoral) set of standards for the way they choose to live their lives. This viewpoint is reflected—intentional or not—in the characters they create and in the way they portray those who disagree with them.
One of my personal pet peeves is the stereotypical portrayal of Southerners. Generally, this backwards-thinking redneck hillbilly is created by someone who lives outside of the Southern states and who’s only contact with a Southerner is through the movie Mississippi Burning. The writer may claim this is not their personal belief, but it does, in fact, reflect part of what they really believe. If not, why not have the character from New York? Those of us who will admit it know that backwards-thinking redneck hillbillies can be from any state…and one from NY would certainly not be a stereotypical character.
As writers, I think what we have to consider is what point or message does our story tell? Oh, it may be unintentional, but it does have a message. What is that message? How can we as the writer make that message stronger, or—examine it from the opposite view—which would, of course, make for a much stronger story.
Good questions for writers to ask of themselves, I think.