It’s true that a good book does bring out real emotions for fictional words. It does touch a person and perhaps they reexamine their own life or view point because of what they’ve read. Yet for me, this is only the side effect of a good story, it should not the purpose of it.
In fact, when the purpose of the story is to make people feel good and/or deliberately moralize I think the story suffers. The first thing I hate in the books I read is being preached at. The second thing I hate is one-dimensional characters that were obviously included for the sole purpose of being “inclusive.”
I’m not saying that the story can’t have heavy themes that lean in one direction or another, because mine can probably be interpreted that way. What I’m saying is that shouldn’t be the intention of the author when they wrote it. It’s never my intention to tell a reader how they should think or feel. I’m not even writing how I think or feel. I create characters that take on a life of their own. Because of their vitality, and because of the way I’ve built the worlds they inhabit to be dimensional and not simple backdrops for moralizing, the characters drive the story. What conclusions the reader comes to are their own.
A fellow writer wanted to explore a certain theme while writing her book. During critique, I had to tell her the same thing for every chapter she submitted to me. The preaching and moralizing were as blatant as neon lights. The story and the characters came second to this theme and her interpretation of it. She wasn’t showing us her conclusions through plot and character; she was telling us how we should feel about this theme and drawing the conclusion for us.
It’s the difference between the author taking a walk beside us in the garden, or the author grabbing our hand and pulling us down a certain path. Personally, I prefer that the authors I read aren’t even in the same garden while I meander down my own path. I want to come to my own conclusions about the world the author created and the characters that inhabit it. I don’t want to be guided.
Most importantly for me, I don’t want to know what the author is thinking. I don’t care about the author’s opinions when I read the story. I don’t want to see them stated between every line of narrative. When an author imposes their biases upon the reader through heavy-handed prose, the story suffers. I prefer to bring my own biases to the story and see what conclusion I come up with.
This may be difficult to imagine if you haven’t encountered this problem when you read, but you’ll no doubt recognize the issue if you’ve ever watched children’s shows or after-school specials. The purpose of these shows is blatantly obvious. They’re designed to teach children how to be decent human beings. There’s nothing wrong with this, and I think it’s an admirable goal, but the stories that are being told are hardly immersive and interesting to anyone over a certain age. The characters are usually flat because they must represent either good or evil. Nuance and dimension are abandoned for expediency of advancing the theme. The plot is often ridiculous (I mean, they’re kids. They don’t know. 😉 )
My point being, I would prefer to watch a show designed to highlight realistic people living in that gray area where good and evil aren’t always so clear and are often a matter of perspective. I feel the same way about books. I don’t read a book for profound statements about the author’s biases. I read for the purpose of entertainment and finding a good story.
I know that people read for many different reasons, and I don’t want to imply that any of those reasons are less valid than mine. Just as with the kids’ shows, books that openly moralize serve a purpose for some people and add value to their experience. I find literary fiction to be too heavy-handed in this fashion, but many people love it. They’re not wrong, any more than I am. That’s the beauty of preferences. They make us dimensional characters living in a gray area where black and white are just a matter of perspective.
What’s your opinion? Do you think the theme of the story should be immediately obvious? Do you like reading books where the author has a clear message they want to impart? Or do you prefer books that tell a good story and leave the message up to you to interpret?