Welcome to the first Monday of 2010, everyone! I hope you had a great weekend ringing in the New Year, and that you're already making headway on keeping your resolutions.
I'm running a little low on inspiration today, what with it being the third roasting 100 degree day in a row here in Western Australia, plus the first day back at work after holidays. So I was looking around for a topic to cover, when I read a passing comment at the Forum about readers choosing to avoid novels with an agenda- a hidden (or not so hidden) message with which the author hopes to influence the reader in favour of some cause or another.
I was kind of curious to read this conversation, because as a former English lit scholar, I can't help but feel that ALL books have an agenda.
Isn't every story about something that the author cares about enough to make their point of view public? I guess, though, that there's a difference between the subtle-as-a-brick, message-wrapped-in-pretty-text agenda, versus a simple projection of authorial values into a story.
Either way, Between the Lines certainly does have an agenda, exactly the same way many other (I'm almost willing to say most) war novels do.
Have you ever read Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks? All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque? Regeneration, by Pat Barker? Name another war novel, no matter the war in which it's set, and you'll probably find the same thing- stories that follow individuals into the mass slaughter and brutality of war; that question the reasoning behind sending men to their wholesale deaths; that paint a vivid picture of both the glory and the horror of battle. These stories use brilliant language and storytelling to hammer the reader senseless with a message: that war is hell, and an avoidable madness.
I hope that my story does the same, because it's the personal message I'm trying to convey. I want my readers to not only see how I feel about war, but to feel it themselves.
And I guess this is where I wonder why if an agenda in a novel is such a bad thing. The three books I've listed above each blew me away with their power- I think all the more so because their authors were passionate about the subject. Their burning desire to express their opinion shone through their prose in a way that reached out and grabbed me as a reader. I wasn't just following those stories; I was living them.
I think you need to care passionately about your subject matter for your story to resonate on the page. And I think it's hard to care passionately about something without having an opinion or a position on it.
Hence, agendas in novels.
Of course, the trick is creating real characters and situations, and writing a compelling and excellent story first and foremost. If it's a thinly disguised essay, it's not going to grab the reader or convince them of anything. If, on the other hand, it sweeps the reader away and immerses them in the life of the characters, it's going to be remembered for a long time to come.
So, agendas in novels- what do you think? Have you read any stories that stick in your mind either for good or bad use of an agenda? And does your own work have an agenda behind it, or a greater intended purpose?