Saturday, April 14, 2012

Upon Reflection...

Some of the feedback I got from Exit Ramp prompted these questions. I don't have answers for them. I'm not trying to make a point with them. They are in my mind, and perhaps one of you, my dearly beloved readers, can supply one of those answers I so desperately seek.

-Does a story need to have a point?

-Does a story need to have a message?

-Does a story need to do something to the reader?

-Is it okay if a story affects the author more than the reader?

-Or is that selfish?

-In fact, if the author writes a story that is primarily reflexive, does the author have any business publishing the story?

-If the author is trying to communicate a message, is it bad if the reader picks up on a different message?

-Does that mean the author has failed?

-Or does it mean the reader has failed?

-Should the author eschew conscious message-sending?

-Should the reader avoid message-searching? (N.b.--this might be an exercise in futility.)

-What happens if the author does not intend to send a message, but the reader comes up with one anyway?

-Can the reader take credit for that?

-Should the author be given credit?

-Is such a message, organic and unintended as it might be, a valid message?


I keep saying "message". I suppose I should translate that.

I refer to anything from a moral ("one good turn deserves another") 
to a theme ("the futility of silent love")
to a call to arms ("don't tase me, bro").

"Message" is the thrust of the art. Whatever that thrust may be.

-If the author intends to send a message, and readers are unclear on what exactly that message is, should the author clarify?

-Is the message what's important?

-Or is it the process of discovering the message?

-Should art entertain?

-Or should art educate?

I don't know. Seriously, honestly, I don't know.

What do you think?

(Long live reflection.)


robadams said...

All of these questions can be answered in one word: Context. What is the context in which the art was created? But also, what is the context in which the audience is reading/observing/receiving?

livingcrossword said...

Let me answer your question this way: no, it does not "need" any of those things. A writer can write what he wants for whomever he wants (himself included) and that's his right. People write for themselves all the time! However, if this writer wants to write for others and please a more "general" audience…there has to be a point/message with a healthy chunk of resolution.

I'll go through your questions as best I can, and hopefully my view will help since I read your story but couldn't quite find the words to comment at the time. It might be a little disjointed, though, so bear with me.

I have only enjoyed stories with a point or a message. As far as I know, that's the way with everyone I am acquainted with how every popular/classic book is written (I could be wrong on that, though, since I'm not extremely well read). What I enjoy reading I read for entertainment, and what I don't enjoy reading I read for educational purposes. I don't like things that I have to analyze or that bother me because they don't conclude. I'm a recreational reader at its finest, I guess.

It doesn't mean the author has failed if they don't have a point or message, though. It just means that maybe they write for people that are not of the "general" audience. Like "Robadams" said, it depends on the audience. If you write something with no point or message and aimed it to the "general" audience with intention to please, though...that might be a failure or lack of understanding on the author's part.

Because writing is an art, though, I think that taking messages/points that may not be there is somewhat natural for more complex pieces. The author can't account for all points of view, so of course there will be some different takes on the work. Credit shouldn't really be given anywhere, because the world is the author's but the mind and relation to the world is the reader's.

For the last point, if the reader has to struggle and "guess" at an understanding and comes to a conclusion, I don't believe that's a valid message. If it's a valid message, it should come from the author. Otherwise it's just speculation on what the author could have meant.

So, what did this recreational reader think of your story? I thought it was good and I was entertained by the idea of this guy having confidence be his ruin, but there were a few things that didn't quite match up or "conclude" for me. Obviously the first one would be the package. I didn't care about knowing who the man was, but I cared about knowing why the car hit him (which sounded package-centered). I would be curious on your thought process with leaving that so open-ended when you could have ended it with a "whoa" moment that would be very memorable. Instead, I was left with a "wft" feeling that doesn't make reading the story a good memory for me.

Secondly, I felt the flow was disrupted because of the inner character voice that interjected into the author's narration. It just didn't match, and I don't know much more I can say than that. Maybe it was how you formatted it…?

So, yes, I believe that if the author is intending to send a message to a certain audience and they don't understand it he should clarify it. That satisfies what he set out to do, doesn't it? The process of discovering a message is work, and for recreational readers like me that is not work I want to do during my time off reading.

I hope that helps! Just my point of view, but I had some time so I thought I'd share. Thank you for sharing too! Love live reflection indeed!

Anonymous said...

It's funny you mention these questions. They are very good ones. Oscar Wilde and the aesthetes had some interesting ideas on the subject. Take a look at the preface to Picture of Dorian Gray. I think he makes some interesting points.

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