1. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Does a novel have to have an underlying meaning?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by mashers, Jun 11, 2016.

    The idea for the science fiction novel I am writing came from the idea of the tech at the centre of the plot. Everything else is built around it. I'm worried that this will come across as shallow, when so much literature seems to have a message at its core and the plot is a vehicle for delivering that message, be it moral, cautionary or whatever. If anything, I would say that all of the characters I am developing are experiencing uncertainty of some kind, and the tech in the story will, due to its function and mode of operation, reduce that uncertainty in some way. I'm considering developing this idea and exploring how uncertainty (and ultimately, a move towards certainty) affects the characters, with each exemplifying a different type of uncertainty in society. But I don't want this to feel 'bolted on' or forced when that wasn't the original intention of the story.

    Tying myself up in knots here...
     
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  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    SciFi certainly has a long history of including social commentary, but I don't think it's at all mandatory. Sometimes a space ship is just a space ship.
     
  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Absolutely not.
     
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  4. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    A lot of harder sci-fi is more built around tech (and the societal repercussions of it) than any kind of theme or what have you. I wouldn't worry - it sounds like you've got a solid sf basis. Exploring the uncertainty thing might be worth doing, but if you don't want to focus it / aren't really interested in it, it's no loss and I'd be concerned about your half-heartedness coming through in the production value.
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say tell your story first, and worry about what it means later. Or better yet, allow your readers to decide what it means. If something occurs to you as you write, you can certainly steer the story in a particular direction, but get your story going first.

    Theme usually evolves from story, not the other way around. If you tell a story to highlight a theme, you can end up sounding like a preacher with a parable.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2016
  6. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Thanks everyone. Actually 'uncertainty' is a concept I've been carrying around for a long time. I've explored it in my personal life, my education, and have written an EP on the subject. It still holds fascination for me and after writing the OP in this thread and reading the responses, I've realised that even the development of the core tech is an expression of the same focus on this concept of 'uncertainty'. Perhaps this novel is more meaningful than I realised. However, it's good to know that it isn't necessarily a problem if this meaning isn't immediately obvious to the reader.
     
  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I think it'd be a problem if it WAS immediately obvious. Few of us like being 'preached to' in a novel, which we choose and read for entertainment. A subtly-made point is fine, but it shouldn't be rammed down our throats :)
     
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  8. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Perhaps immediately was the wrong word. I really means 'clearly'. I love reading a book and getting to a certain point and realising that's what this book is actually about. But then, I seek meaning, metaphor and symbolism everywhere so I am already looking for those things. I guess if readers of my story are also so inclined then they will find their own meaning too :)
     
  9. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    I am always pleased when a novel is able to make me look at life a little differently, but it is not necessary. Conflict. Stakes. Character. That's what it needs. Not parable or allegory.
     
  10. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Maybe I'm putting too much pressure on myself. Reading books like 1Q84 and Existence (Brin) were life changing for me and I want to give others the same experience. I need to re-read those books and think about why they felt so profound to me.
     
  11. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    The only thing a book has to have are words, and even then you can fill up most the pages with pictures if you want to.
     
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  12. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    For me, the answer is most definitely yes. I love books that are layered in terms of theme.

    You can find meaning in more or less anything, so no need to panic. Take a look at Jaws. Easy to spot both duty and sacrifice there..yes?

    It is really not that difficult to develop themes, and once you have identified your own, you can reinforce them by careful crafting of the character arcs.
     
  13. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    First and foremost fiction is for entertainment, be it Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Contemporary, and what have you. If done in a creative narrative and design, a message can be added to such things as literary entertainment. Thus making the reader think about the implications of real world themes in a new light. Such authors as Ayn Rand or Ray Bradbury have done so in their works, from all kinds of societal implications.
    Hell even my own works of Sci-fi are about standing up for what you believe in and fighting for it (though I hope in a non-violent manner), as well as be accepting of other people even those that have bias toward them for a better way of living for the better of society as a whole. Though it also explores the implications that are far to common within our own species to get violent over the things we believe in for the sake of changing society for the better.

    So you don't have to have an underlying meaning (food for thought) in your writings, it can be purely that of your imagination to sweep one away from the daily grind into a world of creativity away from the stressors of daily life. It is like an escapism from the reality and to explore things like flights of fancy or grandeur outside of the reality that is (like a TV show, but with more effort and time involved, as well as individual interpretation of what is written on the page.)

    So it is entirely up to you if you are going to add some underlying message to your works of fiction, or not. Sometimes it is ok to just simply tell a story for the sake of entertainment, without the added bonus of trying to push a subtle sub narrative of a message.

    Good luck with your writings, and all the best. :supersmile:
     
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  14. Neuron
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    Neuron New Member

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    Well, I think it's important for all fiction writers to understand the fact that plot, theme, and character are not separate elements of a story.
    That said, I agree with Cave Troll in that entertainment should be the primary purpose of any novel. Ernest Hemingway, a nobel prize winner renowned for his rich symbolism told his interviewers that he wishes the readers would enjoy his story before wearing the scholar hat and taking things apart. We're writers and we are on the forefront of creativity (especially the genre you're trying to tackle - Scifi/fantasy) . It's every writer's wish to have a creative story to tell. As people above me have mentioned, I think it'll be easier to flesh the story out with thematic elements if you ascertain the plot and character first.
     
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  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    In the immortal words of Spock, "I would accept that as an axiom."
     
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  16. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    A book does not need words. There are some wonderful books out there with stories told in pictures alone.

    @mashers as you're writing your values and natural biasses will begin to show. You will favour certain aspects of society and shine a light on them, just as you will condemn other aspects of society by showing them in a negative light. You won't mean to do this. It will just happen. You can try and be as unbiased as you like but in the end you won't be able to bring yourself to deliver a message that you don't believe in.

    Even if you let the bad guys win. The message won't be that you believe in their values. It will just mean that people who uphold your values are good people and it's tragic that they don't come out on top.

    You've already talked about how you have started to recognize 'uncertainty' is a common theme in your characters and plot idea. That just happened naturally.

    True some authors actually decide they are going to explore ideas or philosophies before they start and build up from there, but that isn't the only approach. The end result will be the same. Your story will stand for something.
     
  17. JoshuaLuke
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    JoshuaLuke Member

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    Novels are often interpreted differently by each and every reader who will find a different underlying meaning to your novel (even if you didn't intend to put on in there). If a novel has a deliberately obvious underlying meaning and the author writes it to teach the audience a lesson then it is often classed as a Fable such as 'Lord of the Flies'. These types of novels have a moral associated with them buried within the book but an underlying meaning could be as simple as the themes presented. In a sci-fi novel this could be the theme of technology but you'll find you might even write about other themes without realising such as friendship, power, violence, betrayal etc the list goes on and on,

    It is really up to you as to whether you want an explicit meaning behind your book or whether you will leave the reader to interpret the message in their own unique way :)
     
  18. Hydraphantom
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    Hydraphantom Member

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    the_2de74d_2130342_9790 (1).jpg

    You certainly need this.
     
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  19. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    Only when it's read by someone who wants to see deeper meaning in everything.

    I'd think that a lot of books with supposed underlying meanings/messages were never intended for it (and those that were are usually badly written, in my humble opinion) to be taken that way. It's simply that their own political and social leanings naturally leaked into their stories and worlds. A book written by a person who hates dogs, showing dogs as aggressive and mindless beasts, might be picked up by a try-hard scholar who loves animals and sees the aggressive dogs as a "reflection of our own animosity towards nature".

    As a writer, you have a hundred things to worry (and drink yourself to death) over. Trust me, this isn't one of those things.
     
  20. PipR2003
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    PipR2003 New Member

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    Most do, mine doesn't. Just stick to what you know and what you can show.
     
  21. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Thank you all for the further replies. Those who have said that the meaning will develop over time have been proven right - as I explore the characters and plot arcs further I'm uncovering more and more depth. I've decided that whether that comes across will have to be up to the reader. All I can do is try my best to depict the situation as I imagine it and hope that they get the same message. If they don't, or they get a different one, I hope they enjoy it anyway :)
     
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  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Empirically, no. There are plenty of books without a deeper meaning.
     
  23. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    On the chance that it makes me an outcast, but I don't write for entertainment. I write because something important needs to be told. Naturally I want my reader to stay glued to the words here, but entertainment follows. It is not the cause, or it shouldn't be in my writing. If the reader stays glued that is reward enough for me.
     
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  24. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I think we try to add some deeper profound meaning within the folds of the fantastic imaginary creation. But it can be seen as the likes of either 1984, or if you really need to be less subtle about your intentions go full Soccaccio and beat the reader over the head with your agenda with the guise of a bad LOZ facade. :p

    On the other hand, it all depends on what you are writing and what your purpose is for it. People still think the bible is a literal thing, and there has been no proof of historical documentation to back a lick of it. Yet it still resides out of the Non-fiction section. So subtle informative, or purely entertainment is solely up to the author, as well as a mixing of the two.
     
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  25. Kinzvlle
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    Kinzvlle Active Member

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    I`ve spoke, on this a tad before. While there`s nothing wrong with adding an underlying meaning it isn`t necessary. With something like writing it`s all subjective the readers can take away any meaning they like to whether it`s there or not. A meaning might develop as you write it, depends just go where the story takes you. Just write the story you want to write, any meaning it may have...may evolve later.
     
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