28 November 2008

What It Means To Write

So. Meaning is something that, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I harp on about quite a bit. That's because - oddly enough - I think it's important. (To which my inner nine-year-old is laughing hysterically: meaning is important, ah ha ha!).

This is something that gets debated a lot, in one form or another, overtly and covertly, between any big enough group of writers: should writing mean something, or at least strive to mean something, or is it enough to merely entertain?

To which I say: there's entertaining, and there's entertaining.

A little while ago, maybe a month, I came to a conclusion: for me, what defines a book as 'fluff', and therefore ultimately no more than sheer entertainment, is lack of character development. Think it doesn't happen? No? Really? I have two words for you - no, make that three: Bond. James Bond.

*cracks up*

*regains straight face* Ahem.

Silly interludes aside, you get my point. There are stories where characters just don't grow, and for me personally, while they might be fun, I'm unlikely to list them as Books Which Changed My Life.

Some of you out there might be content to write Books That Don't; cool, fine, whatever.

I'm not.

I want to write books that Change Things: lives, sure, but even small things, like perceptions, attitudes, thoughts...

But here's a thought: All writing is meaningful.

Let me say that again: All writing is meaningul.

How? Why? Because all writing has something of the author in it, some facet of their personality, some trivial note about their life - and people are meaningful. Lives are meaningful. And when we write, in some small way, we are talking about our life.

Now, I don't want you to think I'm getting all autobiographical on you here, implying that in every book lurks the author's own life story; that's not what I mean at all. No. It's more subtle than mere events. It relates to something else I like to harp on about: themes.

Because, you see, your themes are nothing more and nothing less than what is important to you. And what's important to you is what makes it into your writing - or at least it should be. If you're not enjoying what you're writing, maybe this is why - you don't have enough of yourself in there, enough things that are important to you, that you can care about.

Therefore, it stands to reason that when you write - if you're really writing, and not merely doing exercises with a pen on a page - that you inject yourself, and by injecting yourself, meaning into your work.

Ergo all writing has meaning.

Even the stuff I disparage as 'fluff'.

What is my conclusion here? I'm not sure I have one. I do think it's important to strive, to want to make the world a better place with my writing... But I'm not you. And if you prefer to strive to entertain - well, perhaps in some situations escapism is a noble goal in and of itself.

I guess what I'm saying, if you really want to twist the meaning out of it (haha), is that I'll expand my horizons if you will. I'm willing to concede that all writing has meaning, even if it's meant only to entertain. But I'm emphasising a point I'm made before: you can't escape themes and meaning in your writing, simply because you want to entertain. We're writers; we speak. We speak because we have something to say. And that, my friend, is wotcha call meaning ;)


Frank said...

Interesting riff on meaning. I don't write stories or novels to provide enlightenment, which probably means I am short a Buddha Gene or something. The stories I write have meaning to me. They provide an experience to others who will make of that what they may. In a well told tale, there will always be some meaning because they reflect some aspect of real life.

But characters should change or fail to change, spectacularly. Whether you write fantasy, romance, literary, or any other form of fiction (with the exception of experimental) the character should. This change, if successful, should be accomplished with the greatest difficulty and require that the character overcome, in part, some of his or her own weaknesses. When a character fails to change, that failure should come from the characters own faults, not some external obstacle.

Windsong said...

Beautiful post, m'dear. ;)

I agree, everything a writer writes has a bit of them in it.

I also like what you said about fluff. I think you hit the hammer on the nail. Even if the story's interesting, no character development hinders the story a bit (or a bunch.)

Thanks for provoking my thoughts. :p
(Is there an off button?)

Lady Glamis said...

Insightful, thought provoking post. :)

About the character development:

I was surprised with the new James Bond's their making. I caught a hint (a HINT, mind you) of character development in Bond's character from Casino Royale. The character development comes in with the story they're telling about how he BECOMES the heartless, heavy-drinking, womanizer he is. But it's only a hint, and I still think it's all fluff.

I think fluff consists of more than just lack of character development. I mean, I cut 20k out of Breakaway. It was all fluff, but it did add to character development. It was fluff because it didn't add meaning to the essential plot. It got in the way of the action and bogged down the pace. I still have a bunch to cut, I think. For me, fluff can be too much unnecessary symbolism, description, etc. that I feel can add to development, but still doesn't need to be there.

Yup, everything ever writer writes has SOMETHING of them in, it. I agree!

I think you're starting to help me see why I stick with one WIP. This whole "meaning" thing has me thinking . . .

*will do post later, most likely*

Merc said...

Great post, Inky!

Interesting observation that it's the character development that makes it not so fluffy. I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense.

I still claim that I can and do write fluffy nonsense just for the fun of it %-) and have no problem with that (or reading it) but since I do like to see characters change somehow, I usually strive for some of that in a novel or short (depending on the short)...

Anyway, I'm brain dead so I'll shut up and go write. ;)

Thanks for the thought-poking post, Inky One!


Inkblot said...

See, Merc, it's writing like yours that provoked this post. You yourself define it as 'fluff'; to me, there has always been something about it that was quintessentially unfluffy. It's taken me this long to work out what it is, but there you have it :)

Glam - I completely agree with your points, but just wanted to clarify one thing: while there are many things that can be fluff in the context of a book, I'm talking here about things which relegate the entire book to Fluffdom - a book which has no meaning beyond the words on the page, which has no impact beyond entertainment. Breakaway, for all the padding that was cut, is not, and never has been, fluff.

Windsong - the off button's right in the middle of your back, that place you can never reach to scratch... O:)

Frank - welcome! Thankyou for reading :o) You've hit exactly on my dilemma: presumable, everything that people write has some sort of meaning to them. Even those stories where characters don't change at all, for no apparent reason. So how do I reconcile that with my own opinion that these stories are meaningless? They can't be, because to the person that wrote them, they mean something... As you say, there will always ben some meaning, because they reflect aspects of life.

But for me, that's not enough. I'm still not sure why. It's something I'm working on figuring out. :)

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