1. samueg
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    samueg New Member

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    Strong message VS exciting and action-packed

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by samueg, Jun 30, 2009.

    I've been wondering what makes a better book? A book with a strong message, with not much dialouge and not many characters but a strong finish and an underlying theme that makes you think about it for a while after you finish reading or a book that is fast and action packed, bubblegum for the brain but keeps you on the edge of your seat till the end or at least keeps you reading till the end . Or are the best sort of books the ones in the middle? Also, do you think that these books can cross over to the 'darkside', do you think that an action packed book can have a message and can a strong messaged book have alittle action?
     
  2. J_F
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    J_F Member

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    I don't really know why a book with a strong message would have 'not much dialog and not many characters.' War and Peace, for instance, is loaded with characters and the dialog is pivotal. And that book has one of the strongest messages of any classic.

    But at any rate, I'll always take a book that balances action and a strong underlying message over a book that claims only one of those qualities. Classics tend to focus more on a strong message than action, because that was the trend of the eras they came from, but today action and tension is more marketable and is seen as 'better' to a mainstream readership.

    My favorite example of a book that balances action and conveyance of a message well is Ender's Game. The encounters that Ender faces are tense and exciting, and as the action begins to ravel up there are many messages -- the power of family, the innocence of childhood and how it can be corrupted by adulthood, the reliance on ingenuity -- which are apparent.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I think you're definition of a book with a strong message is a little questionable, but definitely those kinds of books. I can't stand the other type - there are already more than enough pieces of great literature to read, why waste your time with crap?
     
  4. JavaMan
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    JavaMan Senior Member

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    It is possible to combine the themes. I know it's not quite the same, but have you ever seen the movies "FightClub", or "The Matrix?"
     
  5. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    I agree with JavaMan. And when you do get right an appropriate combination of both sides of the spectrum, you get something that will appeal to everyone.
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    How does strong message equal not much dialogue and few characters? And of course they can be balanced. The better ones, for me, are more balanced.
     
  7. Zoy
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    Zoy New Member

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    Strong message and intricate truth of life.... and nothing else !!!!
    Just exciting and action packed...super heroes and super villains !!!
    Surely the above two are so much incomplete.
    Anything exciting about a strong message can play the trick.
     
  8. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Doing both is actually easier than doing one or the other, so that's both my favourite to read and my favourite to write.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'book' is pretty vague... there are novels and there are a variety of non-fiction books... so, what are you asking about?...

    while many non-fiction works do need to have a 'message' that doesn't hold true for fiction... in fact, no one reads fiction to be lectured to, or get a 'message'... they're mostly read for entertainment, period... and when you're being entertained, messages are overlooked, though they can certainly work to some extent, subliminally...

    of course there are writers like orwell, whose fictional works did both entertain and get a message across at the same time, but those are the exception, not the rule...
     
  10. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    They may not do it in an obvious way, Maia, but they do.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Deliver strong messages with a butterfly's voice, never with a hammer's crash. Make the writing tell a good story in an entertaining way. That could be intense action, or vivid imagery, or warm sentiment, or keen-edged satire. But never shove your message down the reader's throat.
     
  12. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Yes, unfortunately they do. And few of them have anything new or interesting to say, so to include a pervasive message is to risk annoying the reader. I prefer fiction to be fiction; nothing more, nothing less.

    If I want to educate myself on a subject, I'll consult nonfiction. Of course, George Orwell's work was good too, but no one reads Orwell without knowing exactly what they're getting into. A book with a strong message will usually make that message known from the outset - the book exists to elaborate, to demonstrate.

    I seriously dislike "ambush morality", which often happens when you're halfway through a good book (or at the end), and it suddenly dissolves before your eyes as the author gives a mighty tug on all the plot strings to make his ultimate point about human nature. Now the story is no more interesting than the rant of a forum loony, (like me) and you feel like you've been cheated. No, you've been ambushed!

    Of course, the ambush doesn't have to be so extreme. It can be very subtle. But the effect is still the same. You feel like you've been led by the nose just to feed the writer's ego. Because, after all, it is ego that drives us to think we must educate the masses, to think that we actually have a perspective that hasn't been heard a thousand times before, to think that our voices must be heard.

    Unless you have something truly insightful to offer (and most of us don't), I think you should avoid writing with a "message". Just write an entertaining novel, get it published, and count yourself very fortunate. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write about important issues, or that your make-believe politics shouldn't resemble reality. I'm only saying that these things should be incidental in your writing if you seek to entertain. If your ultimate goal is to convey a certain message, that's usually a different kind of book entirely. Please don't ambush your readers.

    Stories with a strong and important message can be thoroughly entertaining (Oscar Wilde, anyone?), but the message is usually obvious before you even begin to read, mainly because it is in the general theme. Just like Orwell, you should know what you're in for when you read Oscar Wilde. And in virtually every case where preaching was successful, I'm willing to bet that the author had a good deal of knowledge or first hand experience on the topic, enough to qualify as a respectable voice of authority. Most of us just don't have that, so we're not likely to get away with being too 'loud'.

    And, generally speaking, entertainment sells better than education, anyway.

    My favourite fantasy novels read like historical fiction. My favourite authors often don't seem to have any significant point to make. The stories are realistic, and therefore it is up to the reader to decide what the ultimate point might be. There are all kinds of things one might learn about human nature, politics, philosophy, or a plethora of other subjects, from realistic fiction. The lessons are incidental, however, as the author was merely trying to be faithful to reality. These are the fiction novels I tend to learn the most from - the kind where the author never actually set out to teach me anything. They encourage me to think and decide for myself.

    Edit: Hah, Cogito posted while I was typing my rant.:p
     
  13. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Okay, none of us like to have a message "shoved down our throat", and we don't want our pleasure reading to be a bunch of trussed up preachin'. As Kas said, "I prefer fiction to be fiction; nothing more, nothing less. If I want to educate myself on a subject, I'll consult nonfiction."

    But what if the writer is using fiction as a medium because it's the only way to express their message? My favorite writer, Samuel Beckett, is more widely known for his plays, but he wrote a lot of really excellent prose, too. And when being asked about the meaning or message behind any of his works in either of those mediums, his reply was always the same; a scowl and a curt "If I could have said what I meant I would have just said it." Like it or not, no one who's ever seen Waiting for Godot will dispute that it (a) had a very powerful message and (b) could not have been delivered in any other medium. He couldn't just say it.

    EDIT: Now that I think about it, all of Beckett's work contains deep messages that can't really be put into words (much as intellectuals and critics like to try), and, to tie it back into the OP, none of them feature a great deal of action.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, Orwell could have just written a goddamn essay. Beckett could not.

    Yeah, but those were some pretty tame messages, IMO. Not saying it's impossible to get a good mix, but I don't think a single one of my favorite movies with powerful messages (My Dinner with Andre, Kurasawa's Ikiru, to name a couple) gave up any time pulling us in with chase sceens and martial arts. And my favorite action-packed movies (Kill Bill [vol. 1, not 2], Sin City) feature pretty much nothing other than raw, unadulterated awesomeness.
     
  14. JavaMan
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    JavaMan Senior Member

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    Forkroot and others:

    A writer would have to have been living under a rock to not have noticed that every "classic" in (yes! it's true!) fiction had an intensely strong message. These books have had consistent worldwide success (and movie adaptations) for a number a decades to say the least. However, these are classics, and that means by definition a pinacle of writing skill and cultural, political, intellectual observation. Any idiot with a vocabulary can write a self help book, or, perhaps an action scene between Cold War mercenaries - but, by definition, it will at most be a passing fad if it even become a movie serial. Try it if it suits you - that's something for you to decide, and it's one of the hoops to jump through as an artist.

    As for The Matrix and Fight Club... well the messages were anything but tame. Beleive it or not, even movie people can have very important ideas about certain things - and they find that using a particular medium is the best way to... do whatever the hell that they want to do. The Matrix once had an official we
     
  15. JavaMan
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    JavaMan Senior Member

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    For some reason the 2nd half of my previous message didn't post up. It's late, so I'll post again o' the 'morrow...
     
  16. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Of course the masters tend to have a message. Part of what defines them as masters is that they have a message worth hearing. Most people do not know enough about a subject to assume the role of an educator; it is very presumptuous to assume you have anything significant to offer, unless you've made a lifelong study of the issues you'd like to discuss, as most of these brilliant authors have done.

    If you want to express your opinion on a subject, there's one question you should ask yourself first: why should anyone listen to you? If you can provide a satisfactory answer (for example, if you are noted for your highly controversial lectures on philosophy at University X) , then maybe you have a perspective worth sharing.

    The gas jockey at your nearest gas station may very well topple SK as the new King of Horror, but he's not likely to blow your mind with political theory. What he will probably do is copy things he has heard elsewhere. Worst case scenario, he might come up with a few of his own ideas, and not having studied the subject properly, he may even think he had an original thought worth preaching about, when in fact, he's just repeating something you've read about 20 times already, and you're sick to death of.

    The bottom line is that unless you are truly an exceptional individual, you should probably keep your message incidental. Nearly all stories will have some kind of message, regardless. There's a lesson to be learned in pretty much everything. The only question is whether or not you should go out of your way to teach. Most people simply are not qualified to teach, and their attempts at doing so are as tedius as my posts.
     
  17. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Da'Vinci Code is an example of a novel with a stronge message and a lot of suspense. I read it in two sittings.
     
  18. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    I couldn't disagree with that more, sorry. Who decides who is a "genius philosopher" and who isn't? Brilliant people of the past became well known for their messages because they had the guts to tell them to the world. EVERYONE has equal rights to have a voice in the world. And whether or not the ego mind drives them to put it out there (it does, but it also drives almost everything human beings do, so by that logic we should discount the good deeds of almost everyone from firefighters to doctors to great spiritual leaders), it doesn't mean the message itself is not worthwhile.

    My favorite stories are entertaining and have a very strong message. I agree with using Fight Club as a good example.
     
  19. tbeverley
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    tbeverley Senior Member

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    The lack of a message in writing leaves meaningless entertainment literature and people would rather watch movies for entertainment.

    Writing must provide something better than simply entertainment if it's going to survive Hollywood.

    If I want action, I'll watch a movie. If I want to think, I'll read a book.
     
  20. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Except that the typical "message" does not encourage thought. . . It's often a straight-forward attempt to program your mind, forcing a specific idea without proper argument/justification. Much like a commercial, actually.

    Starseed, I was somewhat irritated and tired, talking in extremes. I certainly could have worded that better. I'll get some sleep and perhaps amend some of those thoughts on the morrow. . . but my basic message (haha) still stands. In any example you might care to provide, I'm willing to bet that the writer was somehow intimately familiar with the subject matter. That is what I meant. Want to write a cutting political satire? You had better know the subject like the back of your behind, otherwise the joke would be on you. Etc

    A lot of newbie writers (including published ones) want to make a point, without actually knowing their point as well as they should. This can be a serious detriment to an otherwise good piece. In that case it is much better to keep the 'lessons' incidental. They will be there, no matter what you do. But don't draw attention to them as the highlight of your novel unless you really know your stuff. Hope that makes better sense.
     
  21. tbeverley
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    tbeverley Senior Member

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    I'd think that's just bad writing. Or the author has a bad personality that's reflected in the writing. :p

    I don't think a "message" is really worth writing about; but ideas are.

    Having a message, I agree, is like trying to convince someone to believe what you believe, which can in the worst case read like a preacher's sermon.

    But I am personally interested in ideas when I read, because if I am looking for action or any other form of enteratainment - you can't beat the special effects in a movie.

    It's not writing to make a point, but writing to share information that I like.
     
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  22. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Oh, yes, this is the best possible reason to read, imo - to expose yourself to new ideas. The exchange of ideas is the ultimate purpose of most writing/reading, I think. I only frown on the preacher's sermon. Very few authors can pull this off in a way I can tolerate, and only because their arguments are very solid.
     
  23. tbeverley
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    tbeverley Senior Member

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    I'd say that at some point in time, most likely when we were young and noob writers, we've all been preachy. I know I have.

    One of the things I find most irksome about all intellectual writing is that there's a huge trend to "criticize." Satire started it all. Now, a lot of people assume that in order to share ideas one must criticize something.

    It's as if, to be an intellectual, one must criticize.

    Hence, republican bloggers.

    To me, it's simply a soapbox on which people stand, mainly young men, to express the size of their intellects. To prove superiority to someone or something and thereby feel self-esteem.

    So, preachy writing is likely synonymous with immature writing. Emotionally mainly. And reveals in inner need for approval through superiority.

    Good example is the way people throw around the opinion: "People are stupid." Another way to feel superiority and self-esteem.
     
  24. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Yes, exactly. I was hesitant to put it so bluntly, but I think this is what bothers me the most. The obvious message all too often reads as immaturity on the part of the author.

    The truly thought-provoking novel will inspire questions and debate. A skillful author can set the wheels of your brain into motion, to arrive at a logical conclusion, without actually telling you what to think. This isn't just a subtle message. The author gives you the tools to figure things out for yourself. Your ultimate conclusion may even differ from the writer's, but that's ok, because a good teacher doesn't feel the need to be right. That would just be ego, and I dislike the presence of ego in novels. The writer's ego has no value to me.

    The point is that any yahoo can tell you what to think; an educational book should do much more.

    And yes, I'm sure we all do a good deal of preaching at some point. I try to get all of mine out on forums.:D Sometimes I notice it creeping into my writing, too, and I have to squash it.
     
  25. tbeverley
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    tbeverley Senior Member

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    Well said. :)
     

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