Thursday, February 9, 2012

What's the Point?

There are some things that an author should delay telling the reader for as long as possible. In a whodunit, the author shouldn’t tell the reader who committed the crime until late in the book, but that’s not what I’m talking about. As I was watching a video the other day, I found that I was enjoying the video, but in the back of my mind I kept asking, “what’s the point?” I was sure the creator of the video was going somewhere with it, but when I reached the end of the video, I got it. The whole point was to leave a heritage for those who come after us. Once I saw that, I could look back at what I remembered from the video and see how the creator had supported his theme.

In a novel, one thing we don’t want to do is to come right out and tell the reader what we want them to learn from the book. If we can do that, we should be writing non-fiction. Fiction deals with topics that aren’t easy to talk about. You don’t just say, “leave something behind for the people who come after you.” Instead, we want to bring the reader to the point that they have a desire to leave something behind. We would do that by first showing a person who has benefited from that, but as the story comes to an end we show that person leaving something behind, just as those before him did. It allows us to think that the next person will do the same and we want to be part of that.

You might get the idea that an author shouldn’t have a point that he wants to make before he writes a novel. Some people fear that the book will come across as preachy if the author is trying to make a point. That is a potential problem if the author states the point too soon. But there’s nothing wrong with an author trying to make a point, if he does it right. He must use the whole novel to state his point. He should not use the story to entertain the reader for just long enough to make a few jabs.

It is my opinion that authors should be intentional about the point they make in their novel. They should craft their story so that readers have that voice in the back of their heads saying, “I see that, but what’s the point?” And then, as the story draws to a close, the reader should think, “Now I get it!”


McKenzie McCann said...

I think that leaving out tiny bits of important information is what makes for page-turners. The key is which points you leave out. If the MC knows something, the reader should to. It's unfair to torture the reader without good reason.

Timothy Fish said...

I'm unwilling to make a blanket statement that the reader should know all that the main character knows. Sometimes that is the case. Sometimes the reader knows more than the main character. But you may recall that Agatha Christie once wrote a book in which the murderer was not only the main character, but he was the narrator as well. If the reader had known what he knew, it wouldn't have been very much of a book.