Does a Story Have to Have Meaning?

I started thinking about this last night. It’s been bugging ever since. First, let me say, it’s official. I’m depressed. I hate when this happens. There is absolutely zero reason for me to feel this way, and I really don’t need anything, I’m just stating it to put it out there, yep, it’s official, and so now maybe I can do something about it. I really do hate this. The one thing I’ve noticed about myself when I’m depressed is that I tend to go numb emotionally – that might not always be a bad thing sometimes – but I have also noticed that my brain goes into ‘think’ mode – and sometimes ‘create’ mode, but either way, it gets me writing, pondering, etc. So I can’t promise this will be as interesting as a discussion for you as it probably is to my brain this morning.

But here it is anyway….

Does a story that a writer writes have to have meaning? Does it have to have a ‘purpose’? If so, is it okay for the purpose to just be to tell a story?

I am going to be announcing the winners of two of our short story anthology contests this week and that means I just finished reading some of the submissions. Some of them are well written, cute, funny, whatever, but they don’t really have a purpose or a meaning other than, perhaps, to tell a story.

When I write a story, particularly my novels, I guess I sort of like there to be something ‘bigger’ behind the story — not exactly a moral or a lessons, but why not a moral or a lesson? I want readers to be able to connect to my writing in such a way that they touch emotions inside of themselves, that they take away a piece of the writing and remember it. But I think I do hope, want, would like for readers to walk away from a story of mine having discovered something about themselves in the process.

My novel, What Brothers Do, that I’m currently shopping around to agents is a good story. I just finished another round of editing on it that has taken me about three weeks to get through. This story is really good. I know that sounds so conceited, but I am my own worst critic and I have tossed out stories that others have enjoyed because I hated them, thrown away stories my friends said, “But it was a good story!” because I knew it wasn’t up to par.

This novel, What Brothers Do, is good. It’s better than good. It’s amazing, and now that it’s been tweaked and edited and perfected and polished, it just shines. I spent all last night bawling like a baby while reading the ending–both happy and sad tears–and laughing in the middle of the flood. It’s just a good book. I know some agent will see the potential in it, and I know it’s going to touch people.

But I found myself wondering: what’s the meaning, the purpose, of What Brothers Do?

It wasn’t a tough question for me to answer. Beyond it being a good story, there is the insight into sibling relationships, the bond that brothers (or other siblings) have, the theme of family being there for each other when times are tough–for whatever reason they are tough. There is the method and madness that goes along with grieving the death of someone you love and we all do it differently, and What Brothers Do shows those differences, and also shows how, in the not so evident, the different methods of grieving are all more similar than it seems on the surface–after all, we aren’t all that much different. We really aren’t, us human beings. Beyond that, it’s a story of love… the love of a man for a woman, the love of a brother for his brother, the love of a family — but it’s not a romance novel. Love and romance are two very different themes.

But does it have a lesson, a moral that people can take with them? I’d like to think so. I think that touches on the theme of: No man is an island unto himself… we are not alone, we can’t do it alone. Everybody needs somebody sometime…. so on and so forth.

I think perhaps last night I realized the biggest them of all in my novel though – and yet, it was a theme I did not even realize was there until after I’d finished writing it. I love when that happens.

That theme is…. forgiveness. Forgiving others and forgiving oneself.

Sorta blew me away when I realized that last night. I like when that happens. Makes me wonder what others, with different life experiences, will see in my words when it finally makes the best sellers list on the NYT. Dontcha know ‘they’ will find meaning in it I never intended? Maybe THAT is the point of a ‘good’ story – writing a story that, no matter who reads it, they can find something in it for themselves, whether you wrote it there for that reason or not.

So when you write a story… do you put those timeless, universal ‘themes’ into your writing? Do you hope to teach a lesson, a moral? Do you just write to tell a story and not worry about those things?

Do you think stories have to have meaning? Is it enough just to tell a good story for the sake of entertainment, or do you think that leaves a story feeling like a shell, interesting, but empty?

What are your thoughts?

Love and stuff,