The Art of Writing No. 30

Returning to the subject of ‘themes’ in novel writing: a couple of blogs ago I outlined the thesis that you can elevate the quality of your work by having your characters wrestle with issues that are current, perennial, local or universal. In Azimuth one of my central protagonists spends his life searching for enlightenment but, in the mean time, being deflected from his course by adventures. A bit like Odysseus, unable to get home as the gods seek to thwart his plans. So, at the heart of the 66 Tales within the three volumes, this man returns again and again to this theme, exploring it through the eyes of the people he meets and via introspection on what befalls him. I hope there is no heavy sermonizing at any time. I am an agnostic but wanted to write in an open way so that the reader could follow his or her paths to personal understanding. The reviews suggest that many people were buoyed up and stimulated by this theme. Others just loved the mystery and unpredictability of the adventures themselves, as well as those of the historian who tells the tales.
All good novels smuggle in far more than their genre might require. A novel is a Trojan horse which you take inside the walls of your mind, willingly, and once there begins to stir up your thinking. If, as an author, you want to proselytize because you are, say, a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim – whatever – the effect could be somewhat censorious. The only people who will enjoy your work are those committed to your belief. Your books become self-fulfilling prophecies. But if you write in such a way that the ambiguities of belief, the case for and against, is represented naturally through the thoughts and actions of your characters, then you will draw in many more readers. You do not wish to convert them but merely get them thinking. Your dialogue becomes Socratic.  Representing good vanquishing all evil in a cut and dried narrative leaves critical readers thinking ‘but that is not like life’ and doubting the integrity of your tale. For me, raising critical consciousness is central to fictional writing. A critically aware population is far less likely to accept any form of totalitarianism.
You may think this is a bit high falutin’ when all you want to do is write something which is a good read. So be it. I believe that fiction has more purchase over the way people develop a skeptical approach to what is presented to them by all media than any number of sermonizing tracts.. Novelists have responsibilities, whether they are writing to a formula or are attempting something grander in scope.  The classic ingredients in storytelling; good vs evil, the so-called battle of the sexes, the moral dilemma of killing, utopian ideals vs messy human reality, innocence and experience and many more, if ignored in your work, may make it appear superficial. Touching on themes such as these, allowing some characters to play out their dramas around them, can lift your work on to a different level.
Azimuth by Jack Sanger
The three Azimuth books also in Kindle Amazon

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