Sending a Message VS. Making a Purely Enjoyable Piece of Writing


#1

When you write, are you trying to send an important moral message? Or do you just genuinely want the reader to enjoy reading your writing? A mixture of both? Something completely different?

For me, I don’t care about sending messages, but I do enjoy messing with my reader’s heads by making them think about that kind of stuff. Make them think of what they’d do in a horrible situation and what not…

What about you?


#2

I don’t think it’s possible to write without sending messages; a work is always going to reflect a certain ideology and set of values. That doesn’t mean moral persuasion or instruction always needs to be the main focus of a work, but even in works intended as pure entertainment you’re saying SOMETHING, you can’t help it, so it’s best to be aware of what that something is.


#3

Writing for my own pure enjoyment. The reader is free to analyze whatever message they want though.


#4

Both. It’s like the trick question- if you go in for an interview: Would you rather make a product which sells, or catches the customer’s attention?

Although it may not be obvious, -almost- all anime has a message woven in. It’s a bit less common in American television. Still, an effective delivery of a message is an open interpretation. Say, a heroic main character gets beat up protecting another character, but overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds by remembering words spoken to them earlier. (it happens a lot) - Is the message to stay strong in the face of adversity? To remember the strength that friends give you? To protect someone is to be strong? Some way of growing as a person? Eh- does it matter- they’re all messages that would probably be desireable to get across.


#5

Agree entirely with @StephC. These aren’t opposite poles - they’re hand in hand. You can’t tell a story without sending a message (many of them, actually!), so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what messages you’re sending.


#6

@StephC has explained this better than me, but here is my opinion. When I write something it will always reflect my ideals or my opinion on something. It would be hard not to write something without any messages behind it even if the author/writer claims they are writing for the enjoyment of it because the main point of writing is sharing an idea and where do we get ideas? Unconsciously or consciously ideas come from the influence of what is happening around us or the influence of something that we believe in or an idea is something that we constructed because we want an answer to a question. Even jokes made for entertainment has some messages behind it.


#7

I don’t write to send messages. I’ve written stories about morally reprehensible characters doing terrible things that are on the edge of human decency. Does that mean I support my protagonist’s actions? No, but I’m writing a story about it. I don’t mind stories with a message, but I do support there being a distinction between fiction and reality so that writers are able to create whatever they want. I’ve seen people misconstrue a shitty character with shitty values for the creator that made them, and that’s wrong to me. I’m sort of fascinated by shitty people doing shitty things and digging themselves deeper and deeper into whatever terrible hole they dig. I don’t support it, but I find it interesting. I get a little upset when people try to moralize this.

There’s nothing wrong at all with writing to send a message. My only issue arises, again, when people mistake the actions of the characters as reflecting on the author, and that’s not always the case. To use an extreme example, I can write from the perspective of a murderer without supporting murder. Whether any and all stories subtly hint at something about the author behind them is something I don’t know. That’s a debate that will never be resolved. Creativity itself is a mysterious process.


#8

It’s possible to write characters who are terrible people without looking like you yourself are a terrible person. The example here deals with sexism, but the techniques explained can be expanded to pretty much anything.


#9

No, I get it, and I agree in theory, but this article actually demonstrates a key issue I have with people attempting to moralize fiction. Here’s what stood out to me:

The article uses this as an example of a sexist statement made not sexist by the last sentence, but I don’t think the statement was sexist in the first place. Granted, I don’t know the context within the novel this exchange takes place, but superficially it’s not sexist to me. Big revolvers (and pistols) have a lot of kick back. Women do tend to have a limp wrist when shooting these weapons because women TEND TO not have as much natural forearm strength and TEND TO be smaller (not to say this applies to all women ever, but to more women than men, especially those women starting out). I shot a .45 ACP pistol. It literally knocked me back a few steps. I couldn’t aim it straight because the kick back forced my wrist up and the bullet ended up much higher up on the target than I aimed for it to be. People underestimate the kickback of firearms. I struggle even with the 9mm. People assume just about anyone can pick up any caliber and shoot it without any problems, and that’s not the case. Having a limp wrist can cause issues with the function of the firearm.

So, yes, if I was Billy I would give Kylie a smaller firearm to start out with because she may be a smaller woman. That’s not sexist. That’s the logical thing to do given the situation.

Now, if he knows Kylie has experience with firearms and he’s just assuming she’s incapable of ever being good with a big revolver under any circumstances then, yes, it’s sexist. If he thinks no woman is ever capable of being good with firearms, again, it’s sexist. But that doesn’t seem to be the case (at least from what little I know).

I know it seems like I’m being nitpicky, but really I’m pulling out this example to illustrate the problem with trying to moralize fiction. It’s not a bad idea in theory, but often in practice it’s misapplied or wrong.


#10

Pretty much what you said.

Like I said, I don’t see any reason to send any messages, I’m not a messiah on a mountain top telling the reader what and how they should think. I’m some random guy that likes to write certain stories in his spare time as a hobby and that’s it.

The reader is ultimately going to read whatever they want into the story regardless if I was actually trying to put a “message” in it or not. Sometimes I get praises on a story because they found it emotionally moving or helped them through depression. Other times the same story gets hilariously bashed for being “hate screed” and most of the time people just basically say “cool story bro” because sometimes a cigar is really just a cigar.


#11

I’m not trying to write a message.
I don’t even have a message I want to send.
It will just be a fantasy story.
With potential for some sadness.
I only hope people like it.


#12

[quote=“LacetheDisgrace, post:9, topic:11146”]
“Billy had the big revolver, but he had told her to keep the small gun for protection. It had belonged to his mother. He said it was a good gun for a girl. Kylie let that pass.”

The article uses this as an example of a sexist statement made not sexist by the last sentence, but I don’t think the statement was sexist in the first place.[/quote]

sexism, noun: Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex. (Google’s definition)

What makes the example sexist: From context, we can tell Billy has met Kylie. But rather than saying that this would be a good gun for Kylie, he says that this would be a good gun for a woman.

That’s where Billy’s statement crosses the line from a practical concern into a stereotype. Stereotyping all women as a group is what makes it sexist.


#13

I’m sort of reminded of the Beatles and their response to discovering that people were analysing and looking for meaning in the words of their songs, and I Am The Walrus trying to counteract that.

Everything has a message, even if you don’t intend it to be there.


#14

When making a story, I try to come up with what is enjoyable, both to write and to read. I don’t really care much about sending a message. If people do get some sort of moral lesson reading it then that’s great. But that’s not my aim.

If I want to send a message or teach people, then it’s better off for me to just write an essay instead of a story.

And that’s boring. I hate boring stuffs!


#15

I think of it more as “even if you don’t try to send a message people will still find one”

People tend to see what they want to see.


#16

I don’t know if it’s been said before, but I don’t think those two need to be mutually exclusive. The stories that have had the biggest impact on me have all come with some sort of message woven into their very core. It can be annoying though if this message is heavy handed or shoved down your throat. I’m a big fan of subtlety in my stories, leaving things open to multiple interpretations based on the place you live, the way you grew up or even if you had breakfast that morning. As someone said before, it’s hard to write a story without some sort of message, even it it wasn’t an explicit or intended one.

However, what I think is more powerful than just sending a message, is making people feel…something. Or forcing them to question certain things or look at the world in a different way.

Not every story needs to be this though, but I think the ones that are have the biggest lasting appeal and cultural impact.

In summation, I think any story needs to be an enjoyable piece of writing for it to be a good story. You could have the most well intentioned message in the world, but more people have read and enjoyed the three little pigs than Finnegans Wake.


#18

In my view, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I think that the best thing a writer can do is make someone feel something, even if your work isn’t exactly liked. It’s something that I think every author should aim for and anyone who achieves it, in my mind, deserves top marks because they’re at the peak of their craft. And by feel, I mean ‘really make people feel’.

But of course this could be because I’m notoriously hard to move. Rather emotionless in all honesty, though it doesn’t stop me appreciating stories. But yeah, that’s what I strive for above everything else. Normally, I do try to have some message there too, but that’s because I like tackling real life issues.

Anyhow, as long as I can make people feel something, I’m happy even if the work isn’t enjoyed. And I don’t mean the feeling of ‘it sucks’ or something. :wink: Rather, I mean that you can dislike something for its themes etc., but you can still feel something and recognise its value. Or it can make you feel something in the sense that you need to discuss what you’ve read or your own thoughts.

PS: Seems my formatting is slightly messed up after the copy + paste. Deleted my original post because I hadn’t selected the ‘reply’ option or because it didn’t seem to have worked. And now I notice the first post was flagged as a reply. :wink: Silly me.


#19

I think @StephC and @cvaneseltine are spot on. Anything you publish will have messages in it. Ignore them at your own risk.

Jason Rohrer’s The Castle Doctrine comes to mind. This got a mention in Part 5 of the “Why Are You So Angry?” series that @Left4Bed linked to a while ago:

When Jason Rohrer released his game The Castle Doctrine it got some flak for how it handled its wife mechanic. You play as a man trying to protect his family with security systems, and if a robber makes it through your security, your wife tries to escape with half your money. The robber then has to murder her to get it. Meanwhile you’re off breaking into other people’s houses and trying to murder their wives. So feminists spoke up and said, “Hey, reducing the only female presence in the game to a resource you have to murder to double your money… is kinda fucked up.” Rohrer then explained his intentions, that the game was meant as a critique of toxic male culture, and feminists countered that his “critique” was functionally indistinguishable from an example of toxic male culture.

So Rohrer continued to explain, and explain, and explain his intentions, and fans of the game jumped in to explain, “no, really, he wasn’t trying to be sexist"

You can write a great story around a deliberate social message (like George Orwell’s 1984), or a bad story with a deliberate social message (like Victoria Foyt’s Revealing Eden). But even if you are only trying to write an enjoyable story, it is worth considering what statements you might be making before you put it out there.

I think this is true in a lot of cases, but there are exceptions. Schindler’s List is a masterpiece, but no one ever says, “Hey everyone, let’s make some popcorn and watch Schindler’s List.


#20

I never actually finished schindlers list.
I kinda want to though.
I think it had a message.
I probably ignored it though.
(I am so very very dense that any message you put in a game or book would be lost on me unless you explicitly stated it)


#21

Oh, that video series is great–I missed it before, so thanks for linking to it!

Sam Kabo Ashwell made a good analogy in his review of the game One Night Stand:

The short version is, our culture has a lot of sexism in it. So much sexism that if you try to light-heartedly assemble a sex comedy without worrying very much about it, it is very, very likely to end up containing some awful things, in much the same way that if you make a sandwich with random food you find in the trash, you’ll probably end up with a sandwich that mostly tastes of mouldy bread and used kitty litter. You might, or might not, have actually intended to make a kitty-litter sandwich. But if you’re sharing the sandwich with anyone, it’s kind of your job to make sure that you didn’t.

One Night Stand was a game that didn’t (at least, I don’t think) really think about what message it was sending, and it got thoroughly savaged in the reviews for it. If, like some of the posters in this thread, you don’t mind people examining your work critically and judging it for things you didn’t intentionally put in it, then this isn’t a problem for you. There’s a lot of people out there, through, for who it’s a huge problem, which is why they’re so enraged at feminist critique of their games–their viewpoint isn’t so much ‘I didn’t intend to put any messages in, so interpret it how you like, I don’t care’ as it is ‘I didn’t intend to put any messages in, which means there ARE no messages, and how DARE you claim that there are’.