Tag Archives: Orson Scott Card

What Does YOUR story mean?


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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?


Social Commentary and the Kindle App

I’ve always been fascinated by social and political commentary. Right now I’m (finally) starting up Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, after staring at it on my shelf for much too long while thinking that “I really should read that.”

I blame college. I mean, really – why must it be so difficult to actually read a good book? Okay, sure, going to college full time and working 25 – 35 hours a week really sucks up the time. But trying so hard not to start reading books often resulted in me breaking down at 11 at night in a moment of weakness and buying the $1.99 book excitedly advertised by Amazon or an author I follow on Facebook. This was often coupled with the “just one chapter” promise to myself that was thrown out the window by chapter three. Instead of stumbling into work or class the next day sleep deprived and hung over, I would stumble into work or class the next day sleep deprived and emotionally traumatized from whatever I’d read last night.

Seriously, the Kindle app for Android was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Damn you innovation for successfully catering to my desires and getting me to buy stuff even when I shouldn’t.

(Sometimes my behavior reminded me of an addict’s. Oops.)

The point of this little rabbit trail of thought here is that I’m finally getting around to reading all those touted classics and dark social commentaries that I’ve been wanting to read since forever. In my moments of buying weakness, I can’t really say that a majority of the books I bought really required a high degree of, er, mental engagement. Good for me in that I could whip through them really fast and then actually get a few hours of sleep, bad in that it wasn’t exactly improving my writing.

Here I am starting to sound like a book snob.

Truth is, I probably am – not that you could tell that from my bookshelf and Amazon account. But I also want to mention something else: the Jungian idea that all literature in some way has a part of society it’s commenting on. This perspective basically believes that literature is society as a whole trying to work out its problems or issues that it’s struggling with. This idea completely fascinates me. If you pay attention, it becomes obvious that particular ideas or themes will seize the consciousness of the contemporary world of literature and own it for a while. Basically all this means that fiction is just a reflection of the “real world,” morphing as we as a culture morph, influencing and in return being influenced.

So, in essence, maybe all of us writers are really social commentators in some way or another. Or just a giant mob of disjointed thought trying to work out our issues. Either way.

Maybe not always, but I’ve almost always wanted to write novels with the aim of teaching people something. I can’t help but be frustrated and discouraged by the lack of intelligence and knowledge displayed by most of my generation (and even others not of my generation). Not only because it’s irritating, but there’s definitely something to the whole idea that democracy only works when you have a well-informed public.

My eventual solution to this was to teach people something in a way that they would want to hear it – through entertainment. Coupled with the fact that I couldn’t stop writing, it seemed the perfect plan.

(This idea is probably backfiring on me now since apparently no one reads anymore.)

It’s pretty easy to piss people off even when discussing the “classic” social commentary issues – feminism, racism, class hierarchy, etc. But perhaps that’s the whole point: literature doesn’t need to be perfect or completely correct, it’s how we struggle with ideas and issues and spark debate and mull over complicated subjects and build some sort of idea of what’s right, wrong, up, down, and sideways. Is there a “right” way to comment on society when there is some truth or lesson to be found in almost anything?

What are your thoughts on social commentary in literature? Is there a thread of thought what we as a society are working out, conscious or unconscious as it may be? Or is most (fiction) writing out there primarily for entertainment?