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.
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