Is it June already? Wow. Only four posts in the month of May, too. Apologies for not keeping up with this thing. Between sickness and apathy and writing and movies and gaming, I haven’t really given much thought to blogging, though I’m going to try and make up for last month by posting somewhat regularly this month. With six days into June, I see I’m doing a great job already!
A friend of mine posed this question to Phill and I last night, and I thought I’d pass it along to you folks as well, because it’s an interesting question to consider. He wrote:
What do you think the most important part of a story is? That it carries a profound message/point, or that it is entertaining?
Don’t cop out and say a mixture of both. I’m interested to learn which one holds more weight with you.
This was my response:
You made a good point about the entertainment aspect being a vessel for profundity. I happen to agree. Suck the reader in with an
enticing premise, engaging characters, and whatever else, and while they’re completely immersed, slip the “big message” in under the
radar. Some stories are more subtle than others, but this is usually the end result. The reader, whether they came for a lesson or just to
have a good time, is going to walk away with both, whether they realize it or not. That’s the beauty of the entertainment vessel.
I’ve found that, in my own experience, if I begin with a message but nothing else and have to construct the entertainment around it, it
will fall apart. It’s happened a number of times. That shitty story I wrote back around Christmas about zombies and
consumerism is a perfect example. The consumerism came first. The zombies were the vessel. And it didn’t work. It was too bogged down.
It wasn’t fun to read.
On the other hand, ALT was formed out of a number of entertaining scenarios (well, that I found entertaining at least), and the
“message” came later, facilitated by what was happening in the story. It’s rare that I’m able to make a story work with a message at the
start and nothing else. There are a couple of exceptions (Suburbia and Jeff come to mind), but otherwise it’s all about entertainment
value front and center. Maybe it’s naive of me, but I think the average John Q. Reader doesn’t want a profound message. They had
enough of that crap in high school and college (I know I did), and just want an escape to another world, an extraordinary situation, and
so on. Package a story or a book with a byline like “A profound message (with an entertaining story)!” and you’ll get tepid reaction,
but say “An entertaining thrill ride (with a moral at its heart)!” and folks will be more inclined to read it.
I think that’s why Dean Koontz is so successful. Just about every one of his novels has a point at its center, whether it’s a moral or
commentary about a current event (Dark Rivers of the Heart is a good example), and the folks who read between the lines can enjoy the book
that much more, but most of his readers are the folks who see his paperbacks in line at the grocery store, are intrigued by the premise
and entertainment value of the tale, and so drop their six or seven dollars (when did paperbacks become so expensive?) to get away for a
few hours a night.
This is stuff I like to read. I’m going to paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk here because I don’t have a direct quote, but: I wanted to write
stuff that I’d want to read. So here I am. You can preach and sermonize all you want, but unless you’ve got the entertainment to
frame it, no one will pay attention.
Oddly enough, my response was the complete opposite of Phill’s, as he argued for the message, and I argued for entertainment value. Ultimately, though, we both leaned toward the cop-out answer in some ways, because I don’t think you can avoid it. It’s almost like they go hand in hand.
So now it’s your turn, my fellow writers/editors. What are your thoughts on the matter?