I think stories should primarily be stories.

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rosiemaphone
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09 Jan 2010, 1:49 pm

I've been studying some feminist literature this year and it seems to me sometimes that the entire novel exists just so that the author can find a way of saying "Look at what the men have done to us!" or "How can we get one over on men?" Of course this is presented in a much more complex way but that is my basic interpretation of the underlying message. I have no problem with feminism, or at least equality between the sexes. But I don't think that novels should exist just for that purpose. The story should come first. Any political point or underlying message, are important to good novels, but should come second.

George Orwell's 1984 is one of my favourite books, but when I first read it I knew barely anything about politics, which I think is part of the reason why I enjoyed it. I was able to enjoy it as a novel and not as a "What is the world coming to" prophecy or a political message.

Now the Twilight series are a long long way below 1984 and feminist classics in terms of quality. But I have the same problem with this series, to an extent. The entire plot seems to exist just just so that Edward can rescue Bella AGAIN, and it's completely tedious. Also (I'm kind of going into a Twilight rant here - feel free to slap me for it :)) if there could be any underlying message to Twilight, it would probably be that a girl is nobody without a wonderful boyfriend to 'save' them, and influencing young teenagers to search for unattainably perfect characteristics in boyfriends in the real world.

Wondering what everyone else thinks about this?



leejosepho
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09 Jan 2010, 2:15 pm

Many years ago I signed up for a correspondence course for writing children's literature, and the matter of a writing existing "so the author can find a way of saying" something quickly became a problem. I had written a story that ended with a child thanking an adult for indirectly inspiring her to look past a certain fear and do something, and my "instructor" who had more of a "Charlie Brown" philosophy -- children do not really need adult supervision or inspiration -- rejected my work.

Some fictional writings reinforce existing beliefs and/or practices of whatever value, and others convey new or different things that may or may not be of greater value. Either way, either the author or the reader must discern right from wrong or good from bad if any writing is to ultimately accomplish anything of real value.


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rosiemaphone
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09 Jan 2010, 3:39 pm

I'd like to see that story, if you're willing to share it. :) I think I agree with you... am I contradicting myself here?

To be honest, I think that if the reader and author are able to distinguish right from wrong, it doesn't necessarily mean that their stories should directly "teach" that. I find it very interesting to read stories narrated by characters who would be commonly judged as bad. It invites readers to make their own judgements on the subjects rather than being told what is right and wrong. And they can often carry messages far more successfully than a story written by a "good" narrator.

Children's literature is slightly different, as the majority of younger children haven't quite formed ideas of what is right and what is wrong and are easily influenced. Hence why children grown up in violent surroundings often become violent themselves if they are not shown another way. Of course, there is the factor of as well as nurture.

As for 'accomplishing anything of real value', I'm not sure what I think about that. Reading works of fiction is primarily a hobby, and novels are written primarily to entertain, but that doesn't mean that things should be that way. I don't know if what I'm saying makes any sense.



HAL_9000
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09 Jan 2010, 3:55 pm

One of the reasons I don't read very much fiction these days is because I'm sick of authors trying to shove whatever philosophy they support down my throat. You know, the types where characters suddenly become a mouth piece for the writer and speak their ideals? And any people holding beliefs contrary to that are presented as fools?

I can get someone's opinion any time I want without paying 8 quid for a book. When I pay money for a book, I want a story. I'm hoping I avoid that crap when I finish my own novel.



leejosepho
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09 Jan 2010, 4:07 pm

rosiemaphone wrote:
As for 'accomplishing anything of real value', I'm not sure what I think about that. Reading works of fiction is primarily a hobby, and novels are written primarily to entertain, but that doesn't mean that things should be that way. I don't know if what I'm saying makes any sense.


My words there might have conveyed something stronger than intended. Entertainment can certainly be of value, and "a good book" can certainly entertain and be of value without doing anything else. However, I believe some serious discernment is needed before some stuff should ever be thought of as having value.

The children's story I had written placed some real-life people in a fictionalized scenario. The main character was a young girl I had previously seen doing what is called "foot juggling" as part of her family's act in a circus ... and the girl was quite good at it. She would lay on her back and use her feet to "juggle" (kick, flip, rotate and spin) all sorts of things, including a long and heavy baton with torches (fire) burning on its ends.

In my story, she had once made a simple slip that had resulted in her father (as her attendant) being burned by the "pole of fire", and she had since refused to include that baton in her routine. However, "Mr. Cobb" had told her father the family would no longer be in the show if the girl did not return to keeping her part of the contract. In the end, I had the girl thanking Mr. Cobb for pressing her to try again ... and my "instructor" specifically told me no child's life should ever in any way be influenced by any adult!

Whew. Go figure.


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Last edited by leejosepho on 09 Jan 2010, 4:09 pm, edited 2 times in total.

rosiemaphone
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09 Jan 2010, 4:07 pm

I know what you mean, Hal. If an author wants to bring a particular moral issue into a story, I think it should be presented as unbiasedly as possible. The reader should be able to work out for themselves what they believe and what they don't.



rosiemaphone
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09 Jan 2010, 4:21 pm

If your instructor was right, there would be no schools or teachers. Children would just be left to fend for themselves from a very young age. Any form of care brings a form of influence. Needless to say, I don't agree with your instructor.

I was a little confused about the message of your story, for a while... It seemed to me like the girl decided to carry on what she was doing, even if it hurt someone. But was it the whole decision-making thing? As in, if she stopped using "pole of fire" it would cause her family many more problems than just a physical injury? It sounds very interesting, especially as the people who read it would have to decide whether the girl was right or wrong themselves, which is precisely what I''ve been talking about.



leejosepho
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09 Jan 2010, 4:37 pm

rosiemaphone wrote:
I was a little confused about the message of your story, for a while... It seemed to me like the girl decided to carry on what she was doing, even if it hurt someone. But was it the whole decision-making thing? As in, if she stopped using "pole of fire" it would cause her family many more problems than just a physical injury? It sounds very interesting, especially as the people who read it would have to decide whether the girl was right or wrong themselves, which is precisely what I''ve been talking about.


Having know that girl and her family, and as better-covered in my actual story, this was a matter of her overcoming some fear and gaining more confidence while trusting her reassuring father who was willing to "move on" if she either could not or would not include the flaming baton. And yes, I see what you mean: Others can read and decide the related issues for themselves!


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09 Jan 2010, 6:09 pm

Yeah, too much conscious cramming-in of a message just kills the art in a story. I think people need to write from the bottom up rather than the top down, if that makes any sense.

The last thing I read was actually pretty good about that. It was a sort of ghost story/memoir by a trans person (Jennifer Boylan, "I'm Looking Through You"), but the trans aspect was a subtle undercurrent, while the main non-trans story played in the foreground. Only by the end did I start noticing all the connections between the 2 layers, and realize that the underlying layer was actually a fundamental part of the story.

People with too much of an agenda ought not to try to write fiction. They should just write essays instead.

I'm all rambling now, but I just had a thought about how self-consciousness seems to ruin art. Old story: a student in a (Chinese) caligraphy house is tries to paint a character but fails. So he concentrates harder and tries again, but it's still not 'right.' And he does this over and over, with no improvement. Then, just as he's about to put the brush to the paper yet again, his master taps him on the should and says "hey look a bird outside the window!" (or something) and the student looks up, distracted, but his arm keeps moving and paints the character. And this time it's perfect. Corny story, but there seems to be some truth that too much self-consciousness screws up artistic expression, and I think having a big pre-existing agenda is the same thing.



rosiemaphone
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09 Jan 2010, 6:31 pm

Exactly, they should write essays, or newspaper articles, or do lectures. I like that little story. I don't see the corniness, but then I tend to be a kind of corny person myself. Some self-consciousness is useful for some 'art forms', I think. I read an excellent play recently which was quite aware that is was a play, if that makes sense. The "whole world's a stage" idea. The characters were often mocking theatre itself. But that was not the artist being self conscious, I suppose, it was the art form itself.

When I write (and I don't profess to be a good writer) my writing always turns out better when I do it without inhibitions or self-criticism, and write because I need to not because I want to please another person. So I guess that's true.



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09 Jan 2010, 7:31 pm

I think it's a question of subtlety.

As an example, Huckleberry Finn is a great, funny adventure story with a powerful anti-racist/slavery message... In my opinion, a great work of art.

Recently, I read 13 by Richard Morgan. It's a sci-fi/action story with a very interesting premise and an anti-racism message. The problem with Morgan's book is that the 'message' is delivered in such an obvious and obnoxious way that it completely ruins the reading experience.

The whole book seems to be nothing more than an excuse for Morgan to criticize and attack an American culture he clearly doesn't understand... It's too bad. It was a great idea, poorly executed.


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09 Jan 2010, 7:56 pm

As a (semi-)Platonist I think the main purpose of art (among which literature) is to illuminate the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. While these concepts may not be very meaningful anymore to many members of modern society, I think they have an eternal value of their own, and that they can be found in all true art. As for your question, I believe that if a story if truly beautiful as a story, and nothing else, then also truth and goodness can be found in it, like in "Huckleberry Finn" as an earlier post has already stated. So, if a story tries to convey a message and the story fails to be beautiful and harmonious, it follows that either the writer hasn't been scrupulously honest, or that the message is morally flawed somewhere. I should say that this lack of honesty or of moral rectitude can be quite subtle, and is by no means always intentional. For example, sometimes people are so convinced that they're right about something or are so deeply involved in some cause, that they are not trying to create an artistically satisfying story anymore (as they did more or less promise by choosing imaginative literature as their medium), but instead something akin to propaganda or even advertisement. Thus, lack of honesty towards art and towards oneself can easily lead to ugliness.


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09 Jan 2010, 8:14 pm

Average writing is where you have a theme: love, death, war etc

Better writing is where you have an opinion on a theme: love is self sacrifice, death makes all men equal, war dehumanises soldiers etc



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09 Jan 2010, 9:53 pm

I like that about comedy, and I think it's unique that way -- it can be self-conscious/self-aware, but the catch is it has to be very very honest. Though as you say in some cases it's a matter of the art form itself rather than the artist.

-- Although one writer comes to mind who seems to be horribly self-concious and writes self-conscious screenplays, but they're amazing (IMO). (And very weird.) Erg, blanking on his name... the guy who wrote "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation," and "Synecdoche" -- (ok I'll google it) Charlie Kaufman!

"Adaptation" was so strange and interesting to watch, yet it is literally about the author not being able to write the screenplay and putting himself into it in order to explain how he can't write it, and then writing about how he put himself in it, too. It's like Kaufman takes self-consciousness to such an extreem it wraps around and comes back from another direction or something. But his stuff is so off-the-wall as to be in a class by itself, I suppose.



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09 Jan 2010, 11:09 pm

I think there's room for both good-storytelling and good messages, although i agree with Sam Goldwyn (of MGM) who said 'if you want to send a message, try Western Union...;)
Still, the craft of storytelling should ba paramount (no pun intended...;) It's like Science Fiction; good Sci-Fi is Fi before it's Sci...;)

Besides; anything which tries to deliver a message by literary 2x4 is probably going to be predictable, and where's the fun in that?


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10 Jan 2010, 5:22 am

A major point for me, is that all this usually breaks the fourth wall. And when an author shatters that fourth wall with a sledgehammer, that is the time when I put a book down. I believe one of the major goals of a fiction writer is to maintain the facade of reality in the story. That is, treat it as a real world and keep it from appearing artificial.

It is like a magic trick. When you see the workings of a magic trick, there is no longer a point to observing it. The smart writer interested in tackling a theme or such does it through the story without exercising their presence overtly.

My opinion.