There’s an inevitable range of opinions that crop up when the question gets raised about what a story is trying to say. Suggestions can range from nothing (it’s just an entertaining story), to deep analysis of each individual letter, not to mention the number of full stops used, to try and decipher the writer’s intention.
The more I’ve mulled over the best way to address this topic, the more an allegory seemed the right way to do it! So, without further ado…
Once upon a time there was a stick. A man picked up the stick and took it home. It was a dry stick that would be great for lighting a fire. When the man got home, he broke the stick up and set the fire in his hearth. He cooked his evening meal and enjoyed it in the fire’s warming glow. The man was so happy he had found the stick. He started to feel sleepy and eventually he dozed off. The fire was left untended and it was not long before a spark jumped into the room, landing on a chair. The chair caught fire. The man woke up just in time to escape from his burning house. As he stood outside watching the flames devour everything he owned, he wished he had never found the stick.
I am hoping you’ll have already guessed the stick represents words. I think there is an important distinction between words and stories. Words are tools we use to create stories and its these stories that are then released into the wild in the hope someone will read them.
Some stories, or indeed any piece of writing, contain clear and obvious messages. Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen and Heroes by Joe Abercrombie both talk starkly about the realities and waste of war, obscured by the pomp and pageantry of patriotism.
However, not every story offers such clear insights into writers’ intentions. There are undoubtedly those who set out purely to entertain, whilst others set out to deliver a message that is less obvious in its delivery (whether by intention or not). Even if you are writing to entertain its always worth considering the themes and tropes your work includes, because you never know who will read your work and pop a comment on social media!
Of course, if you’re not sure your message is as clear as you want it to be you could always take a leaf out of Shakespeare’s book and include a disclaimer:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here,
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding than a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.