I’ve been thinking a great deal about creation and intent lately. What does it mean to intend a creation? Do all creations have an intention behind them? Can something be created without any intention of meaning or understanding? When thinking about my own writing, I’m not certain I can wholly answer the question, because it is at once yes and no. Then I think, where does intention truly lie? With the creator or the viewer?
When I think about my new novel, The Mess We’re In, and the subsequent sequels I have bubbling in my brain, I contemplate what the meaning of it all is. Perhaps I look at my writing too much like an English professor: what are the themes, the meanings, the symbols? But is it wrong to think like that? Sure, it can clutter the process, initially. I believe it is something you can tweak later on. Hide those symbols in plain sight type of thing, or like me, go back and find you’ve already hidden elements throughout your book which could be great class discussions when it becomes famous. But are those necessary to tell a good story? Not at all. So why include them in the first place?
First, a story is only as good as the words on the page. However you arrange them is what makes it shine. It doesn’t need an overarching message or moral to be entertaining, as long as it is written well. A story can just be a story. But it can also be a message. This is where the intent of the creator comes in.
If an author sets out to make a morality tale or have some symbolic meaning embedded in the story, then it should be set up early and held to consistently throughout the story. I find one moral or theme is best to work with, though some are talented enough to have multiple ones. For me, I like to perfect one theme, so it doesn’t get diluted in my own tangents of thoughts.
How To Include Themes
Now, this is only my opinion and one no had to take, but in my experience, the best way to include a theme is to find a common ground between your characters and exploit that. On what point do your characters agree on, or even disagree? In my story, there is a strong “what makes a mother” theme going on throughout the book. It touches on several of the characters and they are affected by the theme in some form in the writing, so by the end, we have some answer to that question. It may be good (in my case, it’s good), or it could be bad. The answer doesn’t always have to be the most acceptable one. Make your audience have some emotional response to your decision. Either give them what they want (a happy ending) or ruin their day. The middle ground sometimes just isn’t as satisfying.
What I also do is edit my work to see if any symbolism was inadvertently planted and can be used. Interestingly, your brain will supply your writing with what it needs, even though you are completely unaware. That unconscious is fabulous sometimes. If it is something you can see working throughout the story, run with it as hard as you can. If it is something that is clunky and cumbersome, it might be best to edit it out.
The Intent Of The Reader
Here’s the sticking point to the entire conversation of intent: no matter what you intend, your audience will probably never receive your message 100 percent. Intent is based on background experience and knowledge, and since everyone is different, everyone’s read on your work is going to be different. They’re not in your head, they’re not you, they are just not going to fully get it, and that’s okay. They will get their version of it, based on their experiences and knowledge. That’s what makes the situation unique for everyone: no two interpretation are alike because no two people are alike. Five different readers may have five different viewpoints on your writing, and none of them are similar to yours. Or maybe all five are somewhat similar. You never know! But your intention with your creation and your meaning will really only be your own. Everyone else will have their own take on it and we as authors have to be okay with it. Unless we are asked directly, “did you mean…”, we have to leave the analysis in the capable hands of our audience. Frankly, I enjoy hearing interpretations of my work, because they generally give me a new vantage point on my own writing. Generally, things I had never considered! Imagine getting a new understanding and insight into your own work. It’s fascinating! Mainly because you get to see just how inadvertently awesome you were with your writing. (and you didn’t even know! It’s a great ego boost, I’m not going to lie)
Meaning, well for lack of a better phrase, can have meaning or it can be meaningless. It’s a double edge sword at times. But when writing the first draft, it may be better to forego any intentional meaning and just let the words come. See what happens. You may find a theme or two hanging out. But if you are set on having an intent or meaning in your story within your first draft, an outline might help organize your thoughts. You want to be consistent and concise with your themes. Don’t hit the reader over the head with symbolism. Use a light hand, place your items throughout the story and then go back to see what works and what doesn’t. Or if there are better ways to play up the theme you have planted in the first draft. As with anything, don’t fret: it can always be fixed in a subsequent draft.
Until next time…
Like my blog? Why not try my novel? Big city actor falls for small-town historian, reigniting a moonshining feud. Things are about to get real messy, but can their love survive?