Writing Stories that Teach and Make People Think

I love stories that teach. Not in a pedagogical sense, but stories that emit meaning, that make one think.  Stories that teach us something about the human condition.

Stories, for me, have to be about more than just entertainment.

In our increasingly relativistic world, I have seen a general trend in storytelling – it has become shallower. I’ve seen it in dramatic performances, movies, and books. I remember walking away from a show thinking that the performer was talented but that the script had absolutely nothing to say. And we’ve all seen the Adam Sandler-type movies to understand what Hollywood thinks about storytelling. Reality TV certainly hasn’t helped the cause of furthering meaningful storytelling.

Now, of course, all of this is an overstatement. There are still thought provoking stories to be indulged upon. I really enjoyed “Interstellar” over the weekend. Excellent storytelling.

For stories to have purpose, they must be more than just a series of happenings. Characters need to have something to say, good or bad, if you want a reader or viewer to be changed by the story.

I try to write stories with underlying meanings and grand themes. They may even, perhaps, have a moral subtly tucked within the story-line, but it’s not the kind of moral that tells the reader or viewer what they should be thinking. But I hope it is the kind of moral that gets them thinking.

Writers are the explorers of ideas! The vanguard of human existence. Society’s reflection. If we are only telling tales to make people laugh, then we are missing our calling.

Granted, there’s nothing at all wrong with laughter. Comedy and clever wordplay are certainly the weapons of a writer, but they shouldn’t be our only weapon. Even the comedy writer should be saying something. (remember MASH – that’s why it worked so well)

What’s the key for saying something in your writing?

For me it’s about theme and characterization. Depth of character starts to naturally bring meaningful dialogue and tangible themes simmering to the surface of one’s writing. Once that happens, the writer has primed the pump to bring out meaning in action, meaning in words, and meaning in description.

But once again, this is tricky. No reader wants to be preached to. Nor do I as a writer ever want to preach or impose my thoughts or beliefs on the reader. But I do have beliefs, and so do my characters. So do most people, so there is no reason to pretend that some might find meaning, purpose, or even morality in the actions and thoughts of others.

Do I always succeed in writing meaningful dialogue that makes people think? I guess only my readers can answer that. But for me, if I’m only putting down words one right after the other merely for the sake of writing a story, then it’s not enough. I must have a clear purpose for writing this story. If the world can live without my story, then it should. But if my story could touch one person or make one person think about an issue or ponder the meaning of human life, then that story has a reason to exist.

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