What Does YOUR story mean?


What does YOUR story mean-.jpg

I’ve always struggled — in most of my professional writing career, after the blissful stage where I only wrote for myself — with making my writing and stories mean something. Maybe it was the crap influences in my childhood who told me that ‘just writing fantasy’ was fine and all that, but eventually I needed to write things that actually meant something. It can’t just be that though, because I’ve always felt a drive to write more than just a story.

Maybe all of this is just all my insecurity and doubt coming home to roost.

It’s the plight of most writers to feel this way. I read somewhere that, at the very least, writer’s write to entertain. But most of us write to try to inform, educate, inspire, engage. So I’m hope to God pretty sure that I’m really not alone in all of my what-do-I-mean angst.

I can’t help but think of this in the light of current world events. Well, USA events, but it’s affecting the whole world, so yeah.

Meaning: I want my books to make people think when they’re out there. I want to inspire and engage and teach. Yes, I’ll always write stories, because I’m one of those ‘if I don’t write it out it just plagues me forever’ writers. But I want to go above and beyond that. I want it all to mean something.

I get a little hung up on how exactly to go about doing that. The first example that jumps to mind is the Orson Scott Card route, of exploring deeply philosophical questions about humanity and morality through science fiction. He does a lot of telling-not-showing, and it seems like he had these deeply moral issues in the back of his head as he wrote the story. Whereas I get characters yelling at me and write them so they’ll be quiet.

So I guess what I’m really struggling with is a way to take my innate character-yelling and transform it. The story comes out, sure, but it’s still just a story. What is the step between characters and plot coming together and then… making it more?

It’s probably the opposite of that. That the meaning to be explored should be taken first — and then add the characters and plot. But how do I do that? Seriously – I want someone to give me a flow chart on how to do this, because I feel like I missed something along the way.

I want to write about environmental issues and the reality of how this relates to economics — so I’ve built solarpunk into my world. But is it really teaching someone anything, or exploring how a world like this works? … I’m afraid it’s not enough.

I have strong belonging, friendship, and what it means to be human themes especially in my current series, but I’m not sure it’s so obvious. I get lost in the plot and the interactions of the characters, and sometimes I think that takes away from the fact that I wrote these two people with the idea that they’re lonely and different… and in each other they find not only a place to belong, but start affecting the world around them for the better.

I don’t feel that it’s enough.

(Maybe I’m just not smart enough — or smart in ‘that’ way? I want to interview Card and figure out his method… and when he feels like he’s really got it.)

I think all of this can be put in the category of learning to take a first draft and make it a second draft — something that, with growing horror, I’m realizing that maybe I haven’t ever done before. I’m going through developmental edits with a professional editor for the first time and getting a crash course in things I didn’t even know were a thing (upcoming blog post on that later! It’s a little nerve-wracking and kinda feels like the floor has been taken out from under my feet).

Of course, who really knows — because an artist’s plight is never feeling like something is ever ‘done.’ It can always be better. There can always be more. Despite knowing this, I still feel that I’m missing some sort of intrinsic lesson on how to get from my A to my B. For all I know I’ll get an epiphany tomorrow and suddenly realize how it works, or I’ll read an article that connects it all — or the most likely outcome, my editor will prod me into understanding what to do.

But for now, I’m definitely feeling a little worthless and like I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’d love to move this discussion out to you, dear readers.

Do you worry that your story doesn’t ‘mean’ enough, especially in light of current events? How do you give meaning to your story? Do you start with the world, the characters, the lesson you’re imparting? If you’re a character writer like me, how do you keep yourself from getting carried away in their interactions? How to you keep yourself from being off subject/too preachy?


About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats and herd cats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

13 responses to “What Does YOUR story mean?

  • Kirstie Earlene

    Yes. I have absolutely felt this way.
    How have I fixed it? Multiple. Revisions.
    I have come to absolutely adore the revision process because it lets me take the labor of love character story and polish it to showcase the meaning, intention or questions I wanted the book to ask/pose.

    I always start with a character and from that character’s growth needs I develop a story. The story is usually laced, in someway with questions, ideas or thoughts that I think are important, revision is the place where I refine, and strengthen or soften the amount of emphasis on that. Revision allows me to fix preachy/divergent/weak sections and to bring the focus onto the characters and how they relate to the issues. I’ve realized over the last few years that some of the books that have made me think the most (Atlas Shrugged, The Way of Kings, Sword of Truth) all made me think because the ideas and meaning were deeply relevant and tied to the characters.

    As a character writer, if I want to add meaning I make it matter to the character, on a fundamental, life-death feeling level. By doing that, I can make it matter to the reader, even if only for the span of time that they are reading my book. They might walk away and go “huh, that was neat,” but if I’m lucky and I do it right they might say “I never thought about that before, let me learn more/look into this.”

    Good luck with the editor! I got a ten-page critique done by an editor through Manuscript Wishlist Academy and it was some of the best advice I’ve ever received!

    Liked by 1 person

    • R. K. Brainerd

      Okay, making something matter for a character, that’s kind of an obvious one I should have known — but that made something click! Hopefully I’ll get this whole thing figured out soon… I feel like I understand a lot of things logically but not necessarily practically, and it’s driving me nuts. More. Practice.

      Thanks so much for the advice. It was nice to hear from another character writer! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  • KristaLyn

    I 100% have the anxiety that I’m not smart enough. My stories usually end up teaching me something without me realizing and then I’m left hoping it isn’t something people with find stupid or childish.

    The fact that we worry means we care, though. So the final product will turn out great and your readers will surprise you!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Marie E. Stump

    I do feel this way, but I have yet to “fix” it. I’m still exploring my writing style and such.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Shannon Noel Brady

    I completely understand how you feel, I’ve felt the same way before. What I discovered was that whenever I deliberately tried to make something “important,” it ended up losing its personality and authenticity, and I didn’t enjoy making it anymore. Feeling bad about myself for not making “important” art killed my creativity and made me create nothing, which was worse. And here’s the thing: I don’t believe any story is ever *just* a story. Even the fluffiest story serves a valuable purpose: it provides escape. A smile to someone who needs it. Characters to care about and relate to. Those are important too. And as you build your story, you might end up finding something meaningful in there that you didn’t expect. Maybe your book doesn’t ask the Big Questions, but it can show someone struggling with a conflict or emotion that will resonate with a reader. Those small things are meaningful too, because what is life but a big collection of small things? Anyway, I think it’s awesome if you want to pursue those Big Questions in your work, they can be tons of fun to explore – just don’t feel like you HAVE to in order to create good work, and don’t lose your love for it. That’s all 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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