Sunday, July 29, 2012

Questions and Answers

By: Damian Serbu

I often think of the best answer to a reader’s question long after they ask it. As in, I do an appearance and reading, take questions from the audience and answer them, and then slap myself on the forehead on the way home or that night in bed when the more precise or eloquent response pops into my head.

When asked a deep and interesting question, I usually just look at people as bewildering thoughts run through my head, from something quite profound that gets frighteningly philosophical, to something more akin to what actually comes out of my mouth: “Interesting question. I suppose it’s different for each novel.” And then I run for the hills!

So I want to use this blog to answer a question that I get almost every time: What is the meaning imbedded in your novel? What themes and messages do you hope to deliver with it? The frequency of this question has me thinking a lot about the “meaning” behind my writing. 

Ironically, readers are one reason that I shy away from explaining whether I intended some deeper significance to my novel. While writing is an intensely personal experience, so is reading. I read novels and form images in my head of the settings and characters. As I explore the story, it speaks to me, it teaches me something about life, love, humanity, and maybe all of the above. And hopefully I come away from the experience enriched in a different way than before I read it. 

When I have read a novel after learning an author’s subtle and not-so-subtle intentions, it shapes my understanding of the book as a reader. As the author, I don’t think I want to do that to readers. I like the idea of a reader picking up my novel and exploring the characters and stories with their own creativity engaging with mine.

Plus, I’m not always sure what themes and ideas the novel was meant to have when I began writing.  Here’s a good example. For my third novel, The Vampire’s Quest, I wanted to write a sequel to my first novel and set it amidst the Old South and slavery. I envisioned a story, outlined my idea, and just wrote it. Of course, with Xavier and Thomas involved, a theme of love naturally came to the surface. No other preconceived themes shaped the initial writing. But when I had finished the novel, had gone through some edits, had trusted readers give me feedback, and had submitted it to Regal Crest for consideration - it hit me.  This novel is deeply about friendship.  Which is why I dedicated it to my best friend.

That notion that seemed so obvious came to me incredibly late in the process! I wonder if I put themes and concepts into that novel, my other two books, and upcoming releases that even I have yet to discover and explore? That’s the beauty of fiction.

I also struggle with whether or not a novel has to have such a meaning or life lesson. Sometimes I pick up a good novel simply for escapism, to venture into someone else’s imagined world for a spell and get away from reality. If in reading, I always seek or determine that every book must center around a grand life lesson, does it reduce the ability to read for fun? On the beach this summer for vacation, who wants to ponder deep thoughts about the meaning of life? I do that enough.

Then again, that can be the perfect time to do just that. Which brings me back to the point I made above, about readers bringing their own imagination, desires, and interpretation to each book. So I as the author may intend one thing, then discover other ideas swimming in what I created, all while a reader enhances it with her own vision and dreams.

That, I suppose, answers the question I began with in this blog. All of those things fuse together to make the beauty and magic of a novel come to life over and over and over again.

The views expressed in the posts and comments of this blog do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Regal Crest Enterprises, LLC.  They should be understood as the personal opinions of the author.

All readers are encouraged to leave comments. While all points of view are welcome on Regal Crest’s blogs, only comments that are courteous and on-topic will be posted. All comments will be reviewed and responded to (as needed) within two business days of submission. Regal Crest reserves the right to post and/or remove comments at its discretion. Spam and comments endorsing commercial products or services will not be posted.

Participants on this blog are fully responsible for everything that they submit in their comments, and all posted comments are in the public domain.


  1. I agree, Damien. A magical bond forms between a reader and the book he or she is enjoying, and the story becomes a unique experience to each one. That's why people always believe "the book is better than the movie". The reader's mind adds those priceless, intangible connections.

    Nice job.

  2. You raise one very good question, Damian. To me the theme issue comes up after the book has been written and when I’m trying to craft out a synopsis. Theme is a mysterious story element. Indeed, I often wonder if a story can have more than one theme. Moreover, does the writer have to have a specific theme in mind when writing a story? I know for me I usually start out with a fuzzy moral concept that I build a story around.

    Just last week I read Mary Vermillion’s Seminal Murder and blogged about it. The theme I walked away with, which was intensely personal, was probably quite different than what Mary intended. This all leads me to believe that your answer to the audience is correct. It’s better to shy away from discussing theme altogether because it’s as diverse as the feelings a good song evokes. There is no right answer.

    BTW, if you want to read the Seminal Murder blog, it’s at

  3. Damian,
    How synchronistic! The weekly quotation at my website is about exactly what you're blogging on. The quote I posted is from Dennis Palumbo, licensed psychotherapist and author of Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within. I'll insert it here:
    "Like it or not, our writing reveals who we are. The story doesn't matter. The genre doesn't matter. Even if you're writing a pirate novel, taking place three hundred years ago, your autobiography informs your writing: your own attitude toward heroics, vague memories of some old pirate movie you saw as a kid, your fantasies about the 'freedom of the seas' or whatever. Even your concern about whether or not your novel is commercial is part of your experience writing it. On the plus side, it's one of the paradoxes of writing that the more particular and personal a detail in character or story, the more powerfully its impact generalizes out to the audience… And, yes, every writer needs to learn story construction, needs to develop craft. But the most important thing a writer needs is the awareness that he or she is enough. That one's feelings, enthusiasms, regrets, hopes, doubts, yearnings, loves and hates are, in fact, the raw materials of one's writing talent."

    I *do* think that one can write a themed novel intentionally --- or perhaps, what we do is REVISE it intentionally. That's what has begun to happen to opposed to my first couple of novels which I didn't have a CLUE about the themes until much much later - how embarrassing!
    ;-) Lori

  4. In step with what you point out, Damian, I’ve always felt a reader’s imagination is a writer’s best friend. I’ve had readers “interpret” my characters or scenes in ways entirely different from my own view. At first that was disconcerting until I realized I probably did the same as a reader of other authors! Then I learned to look upon such remarks as opportunities to consider more nuances of a particular character and expand possibilities that could be addressed in sequels.
    In a more specific application to the writing process, I’ve seen authors tell the reader what the character is going to do, show the character doing it, and explain why the character did what she did. To me, that approach is overkill. We should show what the character does and trust the reader to understand the rest. That allows the reader to filter happenings through their own experiences and affords them the chance to use those imaginations that often operate so differently from our own. That can enrich their enjoyment of our story – a goal we all reach for.
    Thank you for your insights.