Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Staying True to Your Message

Have you ever heard an instrument off key? I have… my own. My first response to the clamor is to flee, cover my ears, escape. I know, it’d be better if I’d simply tune it.

Like an out of tune instrument, I can get out of tune with the message in my writing and solicit similar reactions...a manuscript plopped down on a desk; a rejection stamp on the front page; a shrug from the mailman as he stuffed the envelop in my box.

It’s easy to get off track, to see something shiny--or a squirrel as I write. John Bunyan’s characters, Christian and Hopeful, found themselves locked in a giant’s dungeon after getting distracted and choosing to leave the straight and narrow way. Fortunately I’ve never had to flee a giant to get my story back on track, then again, in a way I did.

A reader can sense when I take a left turn. At the end of a novel I recently read, the author added a component to wrap-up the story. It didn’t fit. It stole away a message paved and groomed on previous pages. I never finished the last chapter, and haven’t recommended the book. I’d rather edit those giants out before it’s too late.

Last week, Casey shared a bit about her character Jenna. "This is what makes Jenna act the way she does. Her biggest fear is that someday her husband will stop loving her and Jenna does not want to lose her husband like her mother lost her father. She is driven to keep her husband’s love, to the point of never telling her husband about the baby that isn’t his. Because she saw what losing her father’s love did to her mother, and she will not turn into the woman her mother is."  To me, a message of struggle and hope rang clear in this discription of Jenna. A concept anyone could identify with in varying degrees.

This made me think about my WIP. Am I simply writing a story that goes from beginning to middle to end? Will I exhaust my readers with endless action that crescendos from page one and peaks on the last page or is there a message a reader can whittle out and make their own?

Cinderella is a favorite story of mine loaded with good messages. It seems to pop in my mind whenever I dust. I totally hate dusting. From this I’ve seen a well-crafted message sticks with readers long after the last page is turned—even when dusting


1. Ask: What is my message? Is there something for the reader to take away?

2. Research my manuscript:

     a. Did my characters hold to the message? In the novel I mentioned above, a dad and mom appeared in a setting and said things not typical of their stature. The impact changed the tone of the message.

     b. Did my plot reflect the message? Sometimes a rabbit trail pulls the reader away from an established message. Red Herrings are different.

     c. Did my setting, action, and dialogue reflect the message? Maybe I got caught up in the excitement and let a character do something they couldn’t--shouldn’t--wouldn’t do.

3. Ask your critique partner or group what the message is. Based on their answer, smile and pat yourself on the back or tweak your manuscript.

I must say the idea for this post came from a recent Bible study I heard on the radio. The speaker spoke about marketplace missions. He asked if we lived true to our message. It struck me that this affects my writing as well. I truly want to live God’s message in my writing, whether the work is for the Christian or secular market. This doesn’t mean I need to shove the Gospel down my reader’s throat. But, it does mean I need to watch for opportunities to appropriately share, as Jesus did.

How have you kept your writing true to the message for the specific work? How do you live God’s message in your writing?


Casey said...

This is truly a wonderful post and one I will continue to think about. It is so very true. We can get off track or even worry if our reader won't get it, but this puts it pretty much into perspective. So many books shove the gospel down your throat and others claim to be Christian, but aren't. I am trying with my novel to be a balance, because she isn't a Christian and doesn't hold much stock in it either.

You gave me thinking to do, Mary! :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks Casey.

No message truly needs to be blatant.

If written well the reader will catch the idea with ease, and often see other great messages applicable to their own lives.

Respecting our readers means: throw away the hammers, grab the bread and water (or coffee and chocolate:) )

Pepper said...

Great post, Mary. (Love Pilgrim's Progress btw)
And I like to think of guiding my readers through an experience (kind of like a treasure hunt) to help them discover the message on their own. I know the message I want to communicate, but many times I found that I commmunicate even more than I meant. I hope that's when God takes my words and my intentions to bring out HIS work. That's when writing takes on the most beautiful element.

And about those squirrels...
Did I mention I have a teeny bit of attention trouble.
That's why I have 3 wips - because to keep the message true for each one, I have to hop between three. LOL.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh this was great, Mary! I have to say that I don't like having a message shoved down my throat, but like to slowly have it emerge through the character and their experiences.

I hope I stay true to the message in my book. I guess my awesome CP will have to figure that one out. :)

Casey said...

I'm the same way Sherrinda, Susan May Warren does a really good job of showing the message and letting it emerage. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

I like the way you call it a treasure hunt, isn't that what it truly is? A nugget to be found, individually crafted for each reader.

I wish I could be totally focused on one wip, but like you, I have many squirrels in my writing nook. They tend to be rather bossy, too!LOL

Mary Vee Writer said...

Discovery is the finest way to learn. I hope my wip engages the reader to discover their take on the message.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Can you give one example of how Susan May Warren lets the message emerge?