On Writing: Anvilicious

I’m against message fiction. I go for that old saying: “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” Our job as writers is to entertain, and maybe inform, our readers. The only “message” they should get is, “Oh, that was fun; let’s buy the next one!”

That said, any time a reader comes away from reading your work, they’ll have a dose of what you believed while you wrote the story. Whether that’s “True Love conquers all” or “Trust no one” or “being a hero is the right thing to do but it hurts.”

Note that, while you write the story. What you write after the Day from Hades is not the same as what you write after a happy celebration, or a good day researching. Your core beliefs may not change, but they can be dented, for good or ill; coloring how they come across in your writing. If you’re having life’s normal ups and downs the effects may be barely noticeable. If you’re fighting off the Black Dog with both hands and gripping the edge of the abyss with your toenails… it can make your story darker than you ever meant it to be.

Determined editing and rewriting can fix some of this, if you’re in a less dark place when you edit. But it may not catch everything. The mood established by word choice and rhythm can hit below your conscious recognition; and if you don’t see it, it’s really hard to fix it.

Note, also, that message is not the same as communication. Good writers are always trying to communicate with the reader. “This is what I feel. This is what I believe. This is what I think would happen if someone took over the world with a horde of fairies bribed by pizza. What do you think?”

A message, on the other hand, implies a one-way flow of information. Here it is, poof, the end.

You don’t want your readers thinking, the end. “The end” doesn’t sell more stories! You want, “And they lived happily ever after – until the next adventure!”

The next adventure implies a future for your characters. A good future. One that lets your reader imagine what that future might be, and that your heroes will face it and triumph again.

Your reader emphasizes with your characters. Lives their lives, for the length of the story. If you give your characters a future, you give that future to your readers as well. The hope that if they fight and plan and never give up, tomorrow will be a little brighter than today.

I can’t think of a better message than that.

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9 thoughts on “On Writing: Anvilicious

  1. Flip slide. There are only two forms of persuasion I find worth the effort.

    One is in the form of having ‘dude, WTF’ responses to statements that are combinations of claims that have issues of fit. Forex, claims x, y, and z, but x and y imply u, v, or w more strongly than they do z. This is a very short term pay off persuasion. Either they made the statement in haste, and can be brought to see why someone might think they made a mistake, or they are a mental defective, or I’ve made a mistake and there is another factor I need to have pointed out to me. For the case of a mental defective, where they cannot respond to gentle tedious correction, engaging may have some value in discrediting them to part of the audience. If there is a sizable audience.

    Second form is the long pay off persuasion, that I have to take on faith, knowing that I may never see any improvement. Like many other people, I started off with positions that were simple relatively and extremely fragile relatively. I try to think systemically, but I am not organized enough for my positions to be a coherent whole, and I do not make condensed arguments well enough that my whole would be comprehensible and accessible.

    I reached my current state traveling a long path of getting new information, analysis over different assumptions, and considering and reconsidering my positions. Very incremental, and a fair amount of work. (One reason we can know that the labor theory of value is wrong, is that otherwise the work put into my positions would mean that there must be value in them somewhere. It is obvious to me that I could happily spend decades failing to justify a position that is fundamentally crazy.)

    I expect other worthwhile thinkers to slowly work their way to more complex positions that better and more usefully reflect Truth. I don’t have a complete system to offer them for anything. But sometimes it can look like they have this or that sticking point, and I can find some bits and pieces that may help them work past that. Everyone has to start learning somewhere, and some of the thinkers I am in contact with are a few years younger. If I can help them understand something a year in the future, or five, ten, or twenty, that may be the right path. Even if you are wrong on a point for thirty or forty years, getting it figured out at thirty or forty may mean decades of getting the work done more correctly. Even if I were the smartest person in the world, I do not know now everything that someone else will need for a complex task decades into the future. I cannot know that, so trying to make other people cookie cutter images of me would be pointless, even if I were somehow a useful person. (I may have major self doubts at times.)

    I want other people to be discriminating about my ideas. To produce ideas, I have to produce a certain amount of garbage ideas. Some of the garbage ideas are ones I do not immediately sort out from the worthwhile ideas. Taking my thinking as entirely sound is a recipe for problems. My experience is that it is good for people to be discriminating generally.

    Wrapping a story around my arguments does not make my arguments clearer and easier to understand. It is entirely impractical for the short pay off arguments. Long payoff, I won’t be able to avoid including arguments I think are good, but a discriminating reader will be able to come to their own conclusion if those are mixed in with bad arguments. First story I wrote, was a good experience. Second, on the heels of the first, was terrible. Because I made a long complicated argument the primary design choice of my short story. So, if I am deliberately making an argument in a story, I need to be willing to drop it from the story if I am ruining the story. I already know how to write essays, the extra effort of storytelling is only worthwhile if the result actually works as a story.

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  2. Of course, when you end with the characters with a future you have readers like me who want to see if working with Allen is enough for Shane to decide that maybe she doesn’t need her chastity bracelet any more, or the further adventures of Myrrh, Aiden and Church. Or may let’s meet Corbin’s tree house dwelling friend. And I really want to see Kae’s photo session with Yris

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  3. Not sure if this is where I heard the way of thinking of a story, but a book is a road-trip. You’ve got the company, the trip, and the destination. Any one of those can sell a story if the rest are alright.

    Message fiction, the destination is the grocery store….

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  4. Then there’s always the tendency for people to read their own message into anything.

    Author: “Then the knight slays the dragon and rescues the princess!”

    Reader: “I strongly disagree with your message about the evils of organic cupcakes.”

    Author: “…What?”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s what ‘death of the author’ is for, to let idiots take the fad theory of the week and twist the author’s work around until it fits, without anyone being ‘allowed’ to criticize them. (Because it’s okay when they do it, not when anyone does it to them. Applies to Wall Street as well, apparently.)

      Sadly, it means you have to check your feedback group for agendas and axes to grind, because there’s what you intended to communicate, what you more-or-less communicated, and what is dishonestly projected onto your communications.

      -Albert

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