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Do I really need to have a message in a novel to appeal to readers?

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( 4 months ago )

I am in the process of the writing a book. It is not my first attempt.

My goals for the book are:

  • Naturally, appeal to my target audience and with work and luck, sell well.
  • Invoke the same emotions, that I enjoy having while reading a good book, within my readers.
  • Invite them into my custom world etc. etc.

So far, so simple (in concept :) )

But now I am a bit worried:
I have, of course, read a ton of advice and "how-to-write-better-books" (next to many articles on the internet and so on). They all offer at least a small morsel of value to me, so thats not the problem. I generally apply a mix-match-collect attitude.

But most of the theories and guides to writing and story structure seem to agree that a story without a theme will fail to entertain readers.

All of them agree that a novel should have a climax as well, a point which I strongly agree with. Is the theme as universal as the climax for a story?

What do you guys think? By the way, English is not my mother tongue.

CLARIFICATION: Since there seems to be a problem with the exact definition of theme I will try to clarify:

This SE defines its as follows: "Theme' refers to a message being conveyed to the reader by the author, through a piece of creative writing, usually a novel"

So I am referring to a single clear (but might be subtly woven into the plot) piece of advice from author to reader like "This is the way you should behave if caught in a similar situation" or "This is the way to behave morally right".

This is not about a question if I should have a blatant message within the book, but rather if I need to have the aforementioned theme, sort of an suggestion how to behave.



( 4 months ago )

A message and a theme are not the same thing

A story need not have a coherent message to be successful. Look at Disney's take on The Little Mermaid - what was the message? If you sign away your soul to chase after a cute guy, you might get to keep your soul AND reconcile the stormy relationship you've got with your father? When striking deals with dark, supernatural powers - the dark powers cheat? Or maybe that the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence?

The Little Mermaid (or Disney's take on it) definitely has themes, though - like the common pairing of a longing for a different life, and the ups and downs of being dropped into an unfamiliar environment. There's the struggle and confusion that goes along with growing up and finding your place in the world. And there's rebellion and reconciliation. Etc.

A story without a coherent theme is like a fish man getting run over on his way to buy donuts to hang on his ears. It doesn't make sense. Your reader is left wondering what the point of it was.

Fortunately, themes often arise naturally. Reader confusion may be a sign that a coherent theme is missing. However, it's common that some theme is part of what makes the story interesting to you as a writer - so you may not need to put one in artificially.

A story without a message is... normal.

what's your interest