Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Writing Memes, Story Layers, and Story Meaning

Anyone with an interest in books and/or writing has probably seen a lot of the writing memes in circulation on social media. For instance, the meme below prompted a response from a famous SF writer last night. I won't name him because I'm not sure if he meant for this discussion to continue off of Facebook. To paraphrase, writers who put down the first thing that comes into their head, who aren't adding a layer of symbolism or subtext to their work aren't writing stories that people will teach. He also added that you may technically be a writer, but you won't be a good one.

Well, I'm much lower on the writing chain than this author, but while I might agree with his main point, I disagree with him in two respects. First, the way his statement was worded was disrespectful to pantsers. I may not have symbols planned when I'm writing the first draft, but I have the opportunity to discover them along the way. (An example might be Yvonne's cross in Twinned Universes.) Even though I'm trying to increase my publication speed to at least two books a year, I still rewrite and revise my work before publishing. I do look for telling details that show us how the viewpoint character thinks. Symbols that are discovered during the first draft can be honed during the second draft. Pantsers do outline; it's just that our first drafts are our outlines.

I also take issue with this author's assumptions that the only way a work--and an author--can be judged good is if they're taught in schools. Symbols and subtext do deepen a story and can make a reread of the story a whole new experience. But that's not why I write stories. I write stories to explore characters' internal lives and their interactions with each other, to work out implications of creating worlds with certain characteristics, to tell a single truth behind a thousand falsehoods. To me, entertainment should be the main goal of a story; subtext is secondary. That's why I prefer this meme:

Symbols are important, but no one just writes in symbols. Without context, symbols have no meaning.

What's your take on symbols and story purpose? Please share it in the comments.

1 comment:

Pat Dilloway said...

I don't spend a lot of time worrying about symbols. Most people aren't reading that deeply.

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