1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Style Escapism Stories vs. Stories with Meaning.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Link the Writer, Aug 2, 2014.

    Though I read this on a forum about a webcomic, the author stressed interesting pointers about what makes a story great. Chiefly in his mind, a story has to have some type of meaning, some type of worth, otherwise, to quote him, "...it's just fanfiction." This was a reply to a poster who asked what was wrong with escapism, reading a story that was there for the pure fun of it and wasn't there to hammer a moral or a life lesson into the heads of the readers. It exists...just to entertain and nothing more. The author clearly felt that if a story wasn't trying to have an impact on the reader, then it meant nothing. The poster obviously didn't mind if a story didn't try to have an impact; leave readers to question their previous thinking; they were okay if the story was just a simple, entertaining yarn with no deep storyline.

    I'm curious as to your thoughts on this. Do you think so long as the plot is entertaining, it doesn't matter if it's trying to impart a lesson? I personally am of this opinion. I honestly don't mind what the story is so long as the plot is entertaining and interesting enough to hold my attention; though I imagine some might hold other opinions.
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see four categories re stories that are trying to say something significant, and I list them in my person order of preference:

    Stories that aren't trying to, but do so anyway.
    Stories that are trying to, and succeed/Stories that aren't trying to, and indeed don't. (I can't choose my order of preference between these two.)
    Stories that are trying to, and fail.

    The last one is the only kind that I can't tolerate. So "trying" is riskier than not trying, if I'm the reader.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    A lot of escapism is popular and profitable. Why is this even a question?
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It depends on two things: 1) your tastes as a reader and 2) what you're looking to get out of a particular book/author. Sometimes I'll read books that really make me thing about what's going on, and sometimes I'll read books that are mindless entertainment. Sometimes a book will be both intellectually engaging and entertaining to read. I'm sort of the opposite of you, Link. Given a choice, I'd prefer a book that is intellectually engaging and perhaps less entertaining than most books. I like entertainment and all, but the joy of coming across something profound and enlightening is a wonderful, wonderful feeling. :)
     
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  5. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    Personally I prefer novels that leave me thinking about them for days or even weeks afterwards so these generally have some meaning to them but escapism stories are good too. When I write I prefer to let meaning and life lessons come through naturally if at all.
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Frankly, I have yet to find modern novels with a deliberate "meaning" that were worth reading. Maybe today's writers take themselves too seriously, I don't know. But when I read, it's to relax, to be entertained, to take me out of the real world. That doesn't have to mean mindless tripe. It just means I don't feel like reading "deep" ramblings.

    As to the author of the webcomic, everybody has a right to their opinion. I'm feeling too mellow to express mine of his.
     
  7. edamame
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    edamame Contributing Member Contributor

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    What the author said about fanfiction really disrespects people who write it, like me. People write fanfiction out of love, they don't make money off it, and some of us really put a lot of time into what we do write. It's also been a way for audiences to explore and discuss things that are left out from the source material.

    Sometimes I like a story that tries to impart something meaningful to me, sometimes I just need something entertaining. If a story only mattered for it's educational content then go read a textbook. Also, who can say if a story's worth something or not? That's really up to the reader.

    I wonder how the author would react if I called his stories worthless. And I don't think he would be writing if he didn't find writing pleasurable on some level.
     
  8. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    I guess it varies from reader to reader, and in extension, from writer to writer. I absolutely abhor novels, serials, movies and any other media form which doesn't probe my thinking. Heck, I don't listen to songs I can't derive some meaning out of. It doesn't mean that the book must have some grandiose underlying message that provides a solution for human suffering; I just expect, after forming such an intimate relationship with something, so much that I let it invade my thoughts for days on end, it would amount to something for me. Like @EllBeEss said, I like stories that keep me thinking for days. Sometimes, even years after reading a novel or watching a movie, I can ponder about it and learn something new from it. For me, such a collaboration is not just about momentary amusement, but adding to myself as a person. Maybe that's too much to ask from a mere book, but then that's my ethos as a writer too.

    For me, writing is an extension of myself--in my stories I can achieve and create concoctions I couldn't in my real life; I live out alternate realities my current life restrains me from. It is my blueprint on the world, and while I know I am another one of several million out there, I want to have meant something. For me, and hopefully if I'm good enough, for someone else someday. Again, I know, this borders on the grandiose but then that's what makes me a writer! I am forming a relationship beyond blood and physical touch, through my intellect alone; I revere it and I hope to deliver it with much responsibility. So yes, I like to believe that all kinds of entertainment ultimately means something. In my opinion, it shouldn't be just random banter and gripe, and if it is then I would never go near it again.

    The author you've quoted though, may have taken an extremist position. They're no one to pass judgement on people's choice to write with or without a message; I mean, yeah, they may have a personal preference, but it's just that. There is a spectrum and there's really no point trying to make it a bar chart.
     
  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think a work has to have a lesson in order to be profound. I also don't think all novels that have lessons are profound. A good novel is thought provoking, and forces you to use your mind during and after the read. Any novels that fail to do this are either trash or pompous trash, depending on the levels of escapism and moral instruction.
     
  10. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, the truth is there are trivial novels and then there are complex novels. The trivial novel has nothing new to offer, and you predicted exactly what you were going to get from it before you even started it. Entertaining or not, its pointless. This applies to much more than novels.
     
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  11. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    I think that is a better distinction than a novel with or without "meaning"; ultimately, even a lighthearted novel can be a source of knowledge and learning, and even the most serious novel can be utterly mundane which teaches you nothing new. Which I think, many would agree with; a novel which you cannot learn from, is pretty much pointless.
     
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  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Great responses! :D I agree with what's been said about novels who do leave some sort of message even if they're not trying to. @thirdwind , I'm actually a big fan of books that leave me thinking about them long after I read them, but I'm not quick to dismiss books that look to be just pure entertainment. Books are books, and they all serve the readers in their own way; not all readers want to feel like they're being lectured, and that's their prerogative and I respect that. That said, as @ChickenFreak pointed out: even complex novels can fall short if the writer treats the message in a clumsy, awkward manner, or repeatedly shoves an obvious moral into the reader's face without giving them any context to go by.

    Now, I can understand why some people wouldn't like mindless entertainment books. They feel it's a waste of time, dull, etc. It doesn't offer them anything new, and that's their right, too. However, in my mind, I think it's all up the readers individually to decide. If a reader likes a storyline that's easy, entertaining, and all around light-hearted fun, then that's not a waste of time for them. As for me, all I care about is the book having a plot and characters for me to be interested in. Whether it's just pure entertainment or has a moral at the end, I don't really think twice about.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2014
  13. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    When I read, I don't care much whether a story has any deep messages or anything as long as it's entertaining. Then again, the kind of novels that entertain me, usually teach me something, so either I tend to read meaningful books or I'm so stupid, even mindless entertainment has something to teach me. :D

    It's different when I write myself; I write because I'm inspired to do so and driven by my ambition, and I'm only inspired and motivated to write when I have something to say, be it through novels, poems, shorts, or songs. What I have to say might be social commentary, some philosophical or spiritual observations, or something as simple and mundane as a celebration of how great sex is. It might not be the deepest thing ever, but it's always there, that something I want to say.
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The weird thing for me is that while I enjoy books that make me think, I prefer movies and music where you don't have to think very much (unless I'm in the mood for that sort of thing). I guess I just expect different things from different forms of entertainment. Is this true for anyone else?
     
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  15. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I know someone (not personally) who considers escapism, and books read purely for pleasure to be time totally wasted. In her opinion such stories are no better than watching some brain rotting soap-opera shite on TV. She has also said that a series like Lord of the Rings has such little intellectual benefits that the series is not worth reading at all, and she regards things like Dan Brown with such vitriolic contempt that I sometimes am amazed by it.

    I do not share these views, though I'd be lying if I said I do not know where they come from. I would rather people focus their reading on things of quality, even when it's things I don't actually like, like Frankenstein or The Faerie Queene, or some of Dickens novels (sorry Dickens fans) over things like Michael Crichton or Stephen King, but despite the number of flaws I can find in both I'm happy to admit that both of those are still worth reading. In fact, despite all the horrible things I've said about Stephen King, and all the horrible things I know I am going to say in the future, I'd call myself a fan with a straight face.

    Returning to what I started saying in the last paragraph, I do think that quality is something I can recognize and respect even if I personally don't care for it. Frankenstein is the first example I gave so I'll just use that, yes, it is a very clever novel, is a very effective and creepy novel, and parts of it I really like, however - Victor Frankenstein is a pillock, and I'd happily justify that if anyone wants me to. I just can't find myself totally understanding or caring for a character who is that cretinous and it ruins the hubris and catharsis of the novel. An at first thoughtless Victor I could understand, at first, but as the novel goes on Frankenstein's actions and how he treats his creation Adam just become ... idiotic.

    However, despite this, I can still see the novel is not without great merit to a reader. That is independent of how I personally feel about the novel.

    So what is quality? I have my own opinions on what makes a book good, but they are not fixed. If a story can be great and the writing great, but taken as a whole it is essentially meaningless, then that would be enough for me to call it a 'good novel'. Something like the Song of Fire and Ice series would come under this I guess. Something can be a pure philosophically-focused exploration of meaning yet have a pretty dire story, and I could still find it a 'good novel', something like 'The Little Prince' or 'Thus Spake Zarathustra'.

    Escapism, unlike the person I opened this post talking about, I really do not have a problem. Stories with meaning I obviously do not have a problem with. I think it is better to combine the two, but if you are only going to go for story, good - good luck, but make sure it's a good story! If the story is the focus then it really needs to carry the novel by itself, and that is a lot to ask sometimes.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2014
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  16. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Does she hate Harry Potter as much as you do? :p
     
  17. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Even Harold Bloom would tell her to calm down. :p

    To quote her directly, after all other attempts to convince her Potter has at least some good qualities, it was pointed out that children and teenagers seem to like the Potter story a lot, her response was: 'Do kids not enjoy happy meals?'
     
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  18. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    People need mental pleasure and recreation just as the body needs rest and craves physical pleasure. Besides which even escapist entertainment can educate and teach, provided the author weaves the right information and concepts into the stories. Does educational or thought provoking fare have to be dull and boring?
     
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  19. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    No. I hate mindless movies and I can't stand mindless music. That 3 and a half minute hook based drivel is the worst.
     
  20. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes that applies to movies/TV shows (i.e. sometimes I just want to tune out), but music always has to have something to offer me. I listen to literally all genres and I listen to them through a musician's ears, listening to how the songs are performed, composed, arranged etc, trying to catch stuff I could implement into my own music. Sure, I know how to relax to good music just like the next guy, but usually I try to pick apart what all the instruments are doing.
     
  21. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Funny he should say that; some of the most meaningful stories that I have ever read are fanfics. But I see where he is coming from, since the most meaningless stories that I have ever read are also fanfics. I guess fan fiction inhabits a wider range than non-fan fiction on both ends of the spectrum. Which makes sense since it is not subject to commercial filtering, for better and for worse.
    I do expect different things from different forms on entertainment, but not quite in the same way.

    Literature: I have a short attention span when I read and I find it difficult to forget that I am reading and to escape into an imaginary scene. Therefore, even if I wanted to read for the sake of escapism, then it would rarely work for me. When I choose to read a book, it is because I expect it to provide something to me that will keep me thinking about it months later. It does not need to be a moralistic lesson or a new way of thinking about life; it could be a clever plot, an immersive constructed world, a fascinating character, etc. But it needs to be something that I still enjoy thinking about long after I finish reading, not merely something that keeps me engaged while I read.

    Speaking of engagement, reading is a deliberate decision that I make. I deliberately engage myself in whatever I read. I have dismissed far too many boring books only to pick them up years later and discover what I missed out on. That experience taught me that attention is the reader's to give, not the author's to take.

    Movies (which includes TV series): I can sit through one pretty easily without getting too distracted, but unlike with reading, I rely on the movie to keep my attention. I often binge watch a TV series, and when I do, I become so absorbed in the story that it feels like real life is a break from the story, rather than the other way around. Sometimes I prefer these kinds of motion pictures over ones that are profoundly meaningful but boring to watch. But the best ones are still the ones that have both meaning and production value. The #1 thing I judge in live action movies is actually the acting. In animated movies, the animation itself is very high on the list. (My favorite movies are The Shawshank Redemption and Schindler's List; my favorite TV series are Game of Thrones, The Wire, and Breaking Bad -- all of which kept me glued to the screen, largely thanks to the actors, on the first viewing and on all subsequent viewings, all of which kept me thinking about them for years afterward.)

    Music: I purely care that it sounds good, with the exception that poetic and/or meaningful lyrics are an obvious bonus.
     
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  22. g_man526
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    I don't consciously try to write stories to be meaningful or convey a message, because I feel like we subconsciously bring our own worldview baggage with us when we write. How and why a story is told in a certain way or why it ends like this instead of the other way, in my opinion, is so because this is how we feel the world works or ought to work. I think we honestly can't help it; our stories will say something about us or about something we believe, whether we like it or not. Even purely escapist or "bread and circus" media, to me, says something about the author or the way the author perceives the world. I have my own cynical views on what those answers are, but I leave that up to you.
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why is escapism mutually exclusive with meaning?

    Keep in mind that meaning may be discerned by the reader's mind, not necessarily deliberately injected by the author.
     
  24. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Whoa whoa whoa, first, yes it would be no better. Second, why would that be a problem, because the 'brain rotting soap-opera shite' would be just as valid as Harry Potter in the entertainment stakes for the people that enjoy them. So her statement on the matter is meaningless to begin with.
     
  25. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Would it be no better? I don't actually agree.

    I can say many horrible things about the Potter series (that it's evil, racist, stupid, overly cynical, and cold and heartless for a start) but of the handful of complements I can give it, the story of each book is I must admit better plotted than some prolefeed like Eastenders. The plots of Potter got better too, ignoring for a moment all the deus ex machina, and the frankly pathetic info dumps in the first few books ('I shouldn't have said that!' said that oaf Hagrid for the seven hundred millionth time). And Potter does build to a finale that - while it's not exactly very good - at least ends in a way people can enjoy. Prolefeed goes on and on and on, that's almost the point.
     

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