A "Message"?

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Laniessa
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A "Message"?

#1 Post by Laniessa » Fri Jun 27, 2014 6:51 am

I've been thinking about this for a while, but I'll cut to the chase:

Does a story need a message or a lesson to convey to the reader/watcher/player? Should moral choices be rewarded, while immoral choices given punishment?

I've just been going through some ideas of mine and I've faced the problem of basically having a story, but not a message to go with it? I don't want people to analyze how the story ends since it can be taken negatively, but that's just how the story flows in my head. I'm the type of writer who wants to write so other people can see the characters that I've made up, along with their worlds and lives, not a writer who wants to make a statement of some kind. Would that take away some impact of the story for you, do you think?

Also, something vaguely related, and only if you would like to help: If people were lying to themselves to keep themselves happy, and a story ended with these people being left alone so they could stay happy, how would you take that ending? Would you prefer it if they were forced to face the truth? I know it's very vague, but that's essentially the issue I'm having with my current story.

To summarize,
1) Does a story need a message or a lesson to convey to the reader/watcher/player?
2) Should moral choices be rewarded, while immoral choices given punishment?

Thank you very much!

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Re: A "Message"?

#2 Post by Asceai » Fri Jun 27, 2014 8:10 am

1) Does a story need a message or a lesson to convey to the reader/watcher/player?
No.

It is enough to only entertain, and let people draw their own conclusions from the story. In fact, I often recommend against explicit messages because readers tend to not appreciate those!
2) Should moral choices be rewarded, while immoral choices given punishment?
I think karma is satisfying for readers - so, even if it's not realistic, I'd lean on the side of 'yes'. It doesn't need to be an exact accounting, you don't need to keep track of everything but as an overall sort of thing I think it's good for there to be a bit of this. Subtlety is key, however.

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Re: A "Message"?

#3 Post by Taleweaver » Fri Jun 27, 2014 9:10 am

Laniessa wrote:To summarize,
1) Does a story need a message or a lesson to convey to the reader/watcher/player?
2) Should moral choices be rewarded, while immoral choices given punishment?

Thank you very much!
1) No. A story needs to do what its creator wants it to do. This may be to teach the reader but can spread from "entertain" over "excite" and "arouse" to outright "disgust" or "troll" him.

2) No, unless that's what 1) requires. If it doesn't require it, a story CAN go this way but NEEDN'T. In some cases, a story may do the exact opposite. Compare Brecht's The Good Person of Szechwan.
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Re: A "Message"?

#4 Post by Caveat Lector » Fri Jun 27, 2014 10:34 am

Laniessa wrote:To summarize,
1) Does a story need a message or a lesson to convey to the reader/watcher/player?
2) Should moral choices be rewarded, while immoral choices given punishment?

Thank you very much!
1) Not necessarily, no. If you feel you need a message or a lesson, it should be because of the story's needs. It's hard to explain, but you never really know what's "necessary" and what isn't for a story until you're actually there. And if you do choose to include an aesop, it shouldn't feel tacked on at the last second. The plot and theme should be building up to it. But no, not every story needs a message or a lesson. Sometimes, it can just have a good, basic theme.

2) In an ideal world, I would say yes, absolutely, but if this is within the context of your story, again, that depends on the kind of theme you're trying to get across.
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Re: A "Message"?

#5 Post by Rozume » Fri Jun 27, 2014 11:04 am

I read in John Truby's "The Anatomy of Story" that the central message is like the brain of the story, with the structure as the skeleton and characters as the heart. Everything's interconnected and without the other things will fall apart.

You can go without a message and still have a story. No one says you HAVE to have a message. But having a message can make your story memorable and stand out.

It really depends on how you convey your message though. Being too on the nose or preachy can ruin a story experience.

As for number 2... I personally am against it. Games that force the player to pick between a "moral" and "immoral" choice ignore the fact that there are always grey areas.

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Re: A "Message"?

#6 Post by trooper6 » Fri Jun 27, 2014 12:38 pm

Laniessa wrote: To summarize,
1) Does a story need a message or a lesson to convey to the reader/watcher/player?
2) Should moral choices be rewarded, while immoral choices given punishment?
You don't need to consciously put a message in your work or reward moral choices or punish immoral ones. You can do whatever you like in your work. Just do whatever you do excellently.

That said...
Laniessa wrote: I don't want people to analyze how the story ends since it can be taken negatively, but that's just how the story flows in my head. I'm the type of writer who wants to write so other people can see the characters that I've made up, along with their worlds and lives, not a writer who wants to make a statement of some kind.
Here is the flip side of you being able to do whatever you want to do. The audience can interpret your work however they want. You can't stop people from analysing the end of your work.

I teach the analysis and history of various sorts of media at university and I talk quite a lot about "the death of the author" and the "intentional fallacy" with my students. What am I talking about? Two different things.

The first is over-reliance on "author's intent." What does this film/game/symphony mean? To answer that question, students will often look for interviews with artists to see if they said what they meant. If they don't find the interview they then say it is impossible to know. If they do find an interview, they then take whatever the artist said as the truth.

These are problems. There are so many authors for who we don't have interviews for about what a thing means (the Bible, Shakespeare, etc), but we still find meaning in those works. There are many authors who say, "My work means this" or "My work means nothing" and those authors could easily be:
1) Lying to Others
2) Lying to Themselves
3) Bad at communication.

Art is a form of communication. Communication is not a one way process where the speaker has intent and then beams that intent into the mind of the speaker. Communication is a two way process where the speaker chooses words and images and sounds to represent what they want to communicate, and the listener then interprets those words, images, and sounds based on the cultural context of that listener. So the listener is always in a process of interpretation. Ignoring the listener's role in interpretation ignores the impact of speech/art.

An example of what I mean. (One of my special research areas is the art of Weinar and Nazi Germany, so that's why I'm using this example) Leni Riefenstahl was a brilliant director in Germany in the 1930s. She made some famous documentaries about Adolph Hitler, one if her most famous being Triumph of the Will. She insisted that her documentary has no meaning. It is not propaganda. It is just a documentary and she was never a Nazi.

Yeah...okay. Personally, I think she's lying. I could tell you why through the analysis of the camera angles and music of the film. For me, despite what she says, it seems clear to me that she was propagandizing in favor of Hitler. But let's say that somehow she didn't consciously lie to us...well, then she must be lying to herself, because...well, just watch the film! And in the end, let's say somehow she really didn't mean to valorize Hitler and only meant to make a neutral documentary...well, then she failed miserably at that goal. Because it isn't just what she says she meant to do, it is also about what she actually did, her impact.

The Nazi regime used Riefenstahl's films as propaganda and they were very effective as propaganda. Everyone understands the film as propaganda, so what Riefenstahl says is meaningless...other than as an interesting example of how an artist tries to change their story after history shifts.

Haven't you ever read something where it is clear that the author has some serious problems with women (or whatever topic)...though the author isn't aware of it--or says they aren't. If you asked them, they'd say...no, that's not in my book! I didn't mean it! Well, they might not have meant it, but it is still there.

That is the nature of a work of art. You control it only while you make it. The moment you release it into the world, you no longer control the reception of that work.

So you don't have to consciously put messages into your work. But that doesn't mean that you haven't put subconscious meaning into the work, nor will it stop audiences from finding meaning in your work.

And of course the flip side is also true, you might intent to put a specific meaning into a work (the critical message about the US in Springsteen's "Born in the USA") and the audience may not see any message ("This is just a fun song!") or see an opposite message (Many people understood that song as a pro-America song and even used it in political rallies.)

So make your art how you want. But once you let it go, know that you can't control how that work is interpreted, because the work then belongs to the world.
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Re: A "Message"?

#7 Post by rainbowcascade » Fri Jun 27, 2014 12:46 pm

I'm honestly at a loss on this question.

My most favored stories have a message like Mark Twain's "The Mysterious Stranger", "Catch-22", "The Kite Runner", "The Visit", "Fight Club".. etc.
All these stories have a message. It hits you hard and when you're done reading, you're all like "Woah. That was deep."

My favorite films have a message. Princess Mononoke is about the balance of nature and human civilization without vilifying the other. An amazingly mature story.

Heck, even my favorite video games have a message. Grim Fandango was a whole character journey into the afterlife and it was fantastic!

The message is like an anchor. It guides the story and the themes and characters revolve around it. You don't aggressively market the message. You gracefully melt it into the story so that the reader realizes it.

That being said, when I write my stories, I realize that they have no message. I'm not interested in putting a message into the story. I don't know what I would tell the reader. But the more I think about this subject, the more I believe that a message is a very important component. Why are the classics called classics? Because they are memorable. The author wanted to make a statement. They had something to say that was so important, that they dedicated themselves into writing the essence of that message into their story.

I think that you can indeed write a story without a message but if you do, people will not remember it.

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Re: A "Message"?

#8 Post by SundownKid » Fri Jun 27, 2014 12:50 pm

Laniessa wrote:I've been thinking about this for a while, but I'll cut to the chase:

Does a story need a message or a lesson to convey to the reader/watcher/player? Should moral choices be rewarded, while immoral choices given punishment?
A story can be anything. However usually the most popular stories are inherently moral because our society has morals and a value system. If you write a story that follows an unrepentant killer of innocent people, it's not going to be as popular as the story of the hero who tries to fight him.

That does not mean that it should force a moral on the reader, that makes it "dropping an anvil". But it would have a subtle moral backing to it. Not necessarily punishing immoral choices, but those choices will come back to bite the player later on. Of course, moral choices could also cause problems. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
I've just been going through some ideas of mine and I've faced the problem of basically having a story, but not a message to go with it? I don't want people to analyze how the story ends since it can be taken negatively, but that's just how the story flows in my head. I'm the type of writer who wants to write so other people can see the characters that I've made up, along with their worlds and lives, not a writer who wants to make a statement of some kind. Would that take away some impact of the story for you, do you think?
Writing doesn't have to be making a statement but it usually has a message to it. For example, a story about a street beggar who eventually freezes to death while everyone around him is enjoying the holidays, might have the overall message that people should pay more attention to the less fortunate. Sometimes this message might come organically but you should consider what you are trying to convey lest your themes become mixed up.
Also, something vaguely related, and only if you would like to help: If people were lying to themselves to keep themselves happy, and a story ended with these people being left alone so they could stay happy, how would you take that ending? Would you prefer it if they were forced to face the truth? I know it's very vague, but that's essentially the issue I'm having with my current story.
Both paths are equally valid. For example, let's say the Matrix ended with everyone being content to live in the Matrix, it would be a cautionary tale or perhaps just a question of whether it would be better to ignore the truth. While the ending of rebelling against the Matrix would be a message that you should face the truth even if it's painful, because you can't be truly "happy" living in a lie.

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Re: A "Message"?

#9 Post by naqlada » Fri Jun 27, 2014 11:02 pm

Laniessa wrote:I'm the type of writer who wants to write so other people can see the characters that I've made up, along with their worlds and lives, not a writer who wants to make a statement of some kind. Would that take away some impact of the story for you, do you think?
This seems unavoidable to me. Every writer I've spoken to tends to pour themselves into their work. Your characters/scenarios will end up making a statement regardless.

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Re: A "Message"?

#10 Post by LVUER » Sat Jun 28, 2014 12:49 am

Laniessa wrote:To summarize,
1) Does a story need a message or a lesson to convey to the reader/watcher/player?
2) Should moral choices be rewarded, while immoral choices given punishment?
Thank you very much!
1. Yes, usually. But even no message/lesson is also alright in slife-of-life kind of story. K-On doesn't really have a message. It's just a story of 5 girls having fun in light music high school club.

2. No, but that if that is the kind of story you want to present. Bad guy wins, good guy is stupid and deserve to be exploited, and so on. Of course if you want to make story for kids, you'd better avoid that kind of story...
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Re: A "Message"?

#11 Post by Asceai » Sat Jun 28, 2014 1:02 am

LVUER wrote:2. No, but that if that is the kind of story you want to present. Bad guy wins, good guy is stupid and deserve to be exploited, and so on. Of course if you want to make story for kids, you'd better avoid that kind of story...
Unless you call it 'The Giving Tree'
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Re: A "Message"?

#12 Post by LVUER » Sat Jun 28, 2014 1:27 am

Asceai wrote:
LVUER wrote:2. No, but that if that is the kind of story you want to present. Bad guy wins, good guy is stupid and deserve to be exploited, and so on. Of course if you want to make story for kids, you'd better avoid that kind of story...
Unless you call it 'The Giving Tree'
Image
Though it's pretty sad for children, the message is the selfless love that the tree gives to the boy. That's very good lesson (love that parents give to their children).
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Re: A "Message"?

#13 Post by Laniessa » Sat Jun 28, 2014 7:00 pm

Wow. That was... really good feedback, haha. Thank you all very much! It's interesting how the answers differ. I'll keep all of this in mind!

Essentially, though, memorable stories usually have some sort of subtle message in it, but it's not necessary (for some people)? And that there's usually some sort of subconscious message within the story, based on the writer. I hope I'm reading all this right?

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Re: A "Message"?

#14 Post by gekiganwing » Sat Jun 28, 2014 7:34 pm

If you want to send a message to the audience, then I believe it should...

* Be relevant to the story.
* Be understandable, but not too obvious. TVTropes calls this a Captain Obvious Aesop.
* Not be repeated too often.
* Not glamorize something which is stated to be bad.

This is tough to pull off. It's easy to say "don't write public service announcements that tack on a moral to the end of the story." But if it were that easy to write...

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Re: A "Message"?

#15 Post by Gear » Sun Jun 29, 2014 8:03 am

Spoilers if you haven't played it, but in Myst III: Exile, the protagonist is left with an option at the end regarding the main villain. He'd been separated from his family and village, believing them to be dead. The player has two options that won't get him/her killed. The first is to let the protagonist reunite with his loved ones. The second is to leave him trapped forever. Both result in the happy ending where none of the good guys die, but they have very different moral outcomes. I thought it was cool this way, if you allowed the player to make these types of decisions, which puts a very different emotion/spin on the ending of the game.

In your example about the characters lying to themselves, I think both options (letting them continue, or waking them up) should reinforce the gray areas of the options, and let the player muse on not just the good that they did in either case, but also remind them of the bad it does, too.
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