Does Your Story Have a Soul?

I have a colleague here in the English department at the university where I teach, and early on in my efforts at writing novels I passed several of my books in front of him. No more. One time, I passed the first chapter in front of him and then asked him what he thought of what I had written.

“What is the symbolism you are using in your story here?”

Symbolism? What? To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a story is just a story. He chuckled and told me that my first mistake was giving my story to an English professor to read. They always look for symbolism in what they read.

And of course after that, I started wondering if I needed to include more symbolism in what I was writing.

But that’s not what I’m talking about today. I’m talking about the point of your story. Those who are ancient Neanderthals like me might remember the animated movie from the early 70s called The Point, featuring Oblio and the voice of Ringo Starr. “Sometimes you don’t have to have a Point to have a Point,” the man said in the movie. No, I wasn’t on drugs at the time. Go ahead, look it up on IMDB.

But the reality is, What message do you want to leave readers with in the end? Why are you writing the story, other than simply to entertain? I’ll admit, that there’s nothing wrong with sheer entertainment. But it gets pretty shallow after a certain point, and sometimes you realize that you want to go away having learned something in the end. So what is there to learn?

Sometimes I find that the message in the story isn’t obvious to my until I start writing the story, maybe until I am close to the end of the story. But when it does come through, it’s significant. That’s why it’s important to write more than one draft. Because when you know what the story is really about, then it changes the whole story. You can get rid of extraneous characters, scenes and material that don’t contribute to that message and make it even stronger. That’s called building your story.

Your soul of your story is the essence of what it is, and it comes from deep within you. And you won’t know it until you start looking for it. But you need to keep your eyes open for it as a writer. Because if you don’t figure out where that soul is, it might be lost. And then your story might be tossed into the scrap heap with all the other soulless dross that’s out there, never to be considered important by their audience.