Does every book need a message?

Ever since revealing the plot of my second NaNoWriMo novel, several people have asked about the message of the story. This wasn’t something I thought of in the few hours I had between finishing my first story, looking around for a second idea, and starting my second story. Those hours went something like this:

Hooray, the end! I should probably come up with a second idea since I haven’t hit my daily quota yet. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Fine, I’ll start poking around the adoptable forum. Ooh, there’s an Adopt a What If thread. Awesome. *starts reading it* What if a human were an advisor to a god? Hey, that sounds cool. Now what if that human were an advisor for a reason? Maybe God’s frustrated that the humans don’t see God as she really is. There’s an idea! *starts second novel*

None of that time was devoted to coming up with a message to the story. The pantser in me wasn’t concerned with coming up with a message before the story began, or at all, to be honest. Crafting the perfect message for a novel can come after I’ve written a draft and I’ve examined all the possible options… if it comes at all. That’s okay. Not every book has to have a lesson, moral or otherwise. If it teaches one along the way, then good for the story. Otherwise, pushing a message into the story is likely to do more harm than good.

This makes me wonder why people want to know the message of my story. Is it because I’m writing about a topic that many people have strong opinions about? Or is it because I’m challenging the norms with this story? Whatever the case, I know people wouldn’t be asking me this question if I weren’t writing about such a hot topic; in fact, in all my years of doing NaNo, this is the first time someone has ever asked me that question.

But for those who want to know this so-called message: there is none. I’m just exploring what would happen if God decided to correct what humans believed about her.

7 replies on “Does every book need a message?”

That’s so weird to me that people would be concerned about the ‘message.’ When I read the premise the first time you posted it, all I could think was, ‘Ha! That’s hilarious!’ like it was a comedy movie or a tv show. No one expects a sitcom to have a message. Why do they expect it from a funny book?

@ForbiddenVoid Exactly! This is meant to be funny, not to preach or even provide commentary. Besides, this is NaNo. If this one does get edited (and I’m already planning on editing the first one), then maybe then this so-called message people want out of it will be more defined. Now? Nah.

Well, if you write about a convenience-store clerk, you don’t necessarily have to have a message. If you write about God, it’s a little disingenuous to feign surprise that people ask what your message is. If ForbiddenVoid has never read a funny book with a message, may I refer him to the work of Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, or William S. Burroughs?

You claim you’re challenging norms, but if your writing has no real message or moral, then how could it be challenging our norms? ´╗┐Most people believe in God, and even most believers tolerate criticism of the edifice of organized religion. So it sounds more like you’re just pushing hot buttons and pretending to be provocative.

@Istvan You didn’t read the part where I said I was making this up as I go along, did you? I’m not pretending to be provocative, and I’m not going to come up with a solid message until the end when one writes itself. The only people who have been vocal about this story in a non-“That’s hilarious!” way are the one who want to know the so-called message. It’s meant to be funny, not to preach.

Now let me take a stab at your genre…lit fic?

@Sushi I actually understand what you mean when you say that you’re just making this up as you go along. I understand you intend this to be wacky, wacky funny. But you seem so phony when you wonder aloud why anyone would expect a story about GOD to have a message of some sort. Wouldn’t you be confused if I said I’m writing a comedy about the Holocaust, but it’s not supposed to be heavy or preachy or anything?

For someone who describes herself on the NaNo site as an “atheist in every sense of the word,” you seem fascinated with questions like what if God existed, and what if she were a neurotic woman who cared what people thought of her, and what if she wasn’t aware for some reason that people believed in her according to the scriptures and dogmas that her followers claim she gave them?

Just one question: do you have any aim in writing this other than to type out a certain amount of words?

@Istvan If you were writing a comedy about the Holocaust (or some other equally tragic event), I wouldn’t wonder about the message. I’d wonder how you’d make it funny. I’d rather figure out the message myself if I ever got to read it because that message can change every time I read something. That’s just me, and that’s why I’m surprised when people ask about the message of a book: I’d rather not have it spoiled.

And seriously, it’s just a work of fiction. Sure, I’m not a believer, but I can write whatever I want in fiction. My first book this year was about the worlds behind photos. I don’t believe in those either, but that didn’t stop me from writing about them. You’ll find that more nonbelievers than you think explore spiritual and religious themes in their writing. As for why I’m writing this, it just sounded like a fun idea, and I’m aiming for 150k this year with the possibility of going for 225k. I’m sure you’ll interpret that as writing a certain amount of words, but I wouldn’t be writing it if it weren’t fun. This may be edited after the month is over; it might not. We’ll see.

@Sushi My point was that unless I said I had a powerful and original message (about power or cruelty or cynicism, etc.) to convey with my Holocaust comedy, you’d have every reason to assume that it would be nothing more than a witless exercise in bad taste. As of right now, you haven’t declared any aim in writing this story about Ms. God other than that it’s a “fun idea” and you want to type a lot of words this month. And considering that your fans here don’t seem to expect a message at all, I guess the bar is set pretty low.

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