Monday, April 19, 2010

Fiction as Conversation

I was recently asked, "What message are you trying to get across in your writing?"

I responded, "I'm not trying to get a message across. I'm privileged to contribute to the ongoing conversation, in literary form, of what it means to be human."

The story world - the place where fiction resides - is specially equipped for these conversations. It's a place where we are able to connect out thinking to action through characters and situations that, while fiction, are part of the everyday fabric of who we are and how we became to be this way.

When I gave this response, the person reacted jittery and said, "But don't you write Christian fiction?"

Yes and no. All fiction is spiritual - written out of the paradigm of the author's beliefs (and, hopefully, out of the author's wrestling with those beliefs). And yes, each story has a point, something the author hopes you see and wonder about and ponder along with - but because of the nature of fiction, we, the reader, are allowed to take the meaning and message of the story and do what we will with it.

I'm reading The Help right now, a story about two maids and a young white woman in the 1960s who work together on a book that will prove dangerous to all of them. On the surface it's a novel about civil rights in the southern US (and it is), but it's also a book about women. Our perceived role in society, how we are allowed or disallowed to function. And how difficult it is to change those perceptions It's about how we all have the ability to change all stereotypes and social judgements, if only we decide to. If only we are willing to pay the price for doing it.

How does the author manage to discuss these weighty matters? She doesn't. Instead she does something far more effective - she tells a story. She shows us these intangibles at work though the lives of characters, living out the facts of life in front of us. We are invited into the larger conversation through the avenue of story. Is it a books with message?

No. It's a book with a meaning, and the message is yours to discover, interpret, discuss, and live out.

I bid you good writing.


Jason said...

Hi Bonnie,
I really like the way you put this, so thanks for the post. I agree that while "the message" is so important to many authors, their downfall can be when opinions take over. It's much more effective to write around the message in ways that let readers make their own determinations without feeling lectured. I'm a similar type of author (or so I think) and have a novel that is based on an argument between husband and wife over the proof of some form of God. Of course I can't prove it or disprove it, but I can create intriguing events that get one thinking as I attempt to let the reader determine who wins this bet.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Ah, I love this..."she tells a story." And what a story she tells!!! I'm reading The Help now too. Minny cracks me up. I root for her every day. The characters are fantastic. I find myself reading the book slowly just so I can soak it all up.

This is one book sure to stay with me. Messages are only able to come alive from within the pages *b/c* the story has been crafted so well.

~ Wendy

Bonnie Grove said...

Hey Jason, Thanks for stopping by. Yes, we can write around a message, too. I've found the story itself is what decides what the message will be. But, it's not the only way to write a novel.

Wendy: I love Minny, too. All the voices are wonderful. I'm near the end of the book - crossing my fingers for a powerful ending.

Koala Bear Writer said...

That's the best type of story - one that keeps you turning the pages, but then also leaves you with something to think about after you stop turning pages. Great post, Bonnie. :)

Jan Cline said...

Love this concept. It will be something to think about as I write. Everyone gleans what they want or need from fiction. Some read for simple pleasure while others may be searching for a bit of wisdom or confirmation about their own life. Each to his own.
Blessings! said...

Another new voice in town here. Thank you for your post. It will help me to help others understand the stand I am taking with my ms; to exalt God and to share my faith with others. Do you find your writing gives you a platform to share your faith?