I just finished completing my evaluation of a book by one of my former students. It was, all in all, a very good book. In fact, I hope to see it in print one day. But one of the questions I had at the end is the inevitable “So What? question.
Sure it was entertaining. But what socially redeeming message did it include?
This is not to say that authors should have preaching in mind when they tell a story. In fact, I strongly advise them not to. As J.R.R. Tolkien stated: “Sometimes a story is just a story.” But the reality is, when the story is finished, a message comes through, whether the author intended it or not.
One of the questions I included on the final exam for my recent Narrative Writing class was: “What is your life philosophy and how is it reflected in your writing?” This seems like an odd question for students who are simply trying to learn the techniques of writing short stories and novels, but on the other hand, I believe it helps them to focus on what it is they are trying to say, whether they are intentionally trying to say it or not, if you catch my drift.
The moment writers complete a story, they should take a moment and look back at their story, try to distance themselves for objectivity, and ask: what am I really saying here? Asking that question can help sharpen one’s focus and can be the difference between a good story and a great one.
So when you have a fantasy adventure story, such as the one I just finished reading, you need to be left with some sort of message. Or actually, you will be left with some sort of message.
It just is a matter of what message you are left with.