Heavy Handed Writing*

I’m sure you’ve all read a book that gives up too many clues before the mystery has been solved. It’s irritating, right? You probably say to yourself, “Why should I even finish this?” Maybe you don’t or maybe you stick around just to see if there is a twist (and then are really disappointed when there isn’t).

These giveaways happen in other areas of writing too. Maybe the author uses stereotypes or slams you over the head with their political platform. (And FYI, stories with a moral are totally out of style. Apparently agents want us to leave that kind of writing to Aesop).

This is actually something I’m struggling with right now with my WIP…not because I want to put a moral into the story but because I’m afraid someone will imagine there is more meaning than I intended. The world I’ve created is divided into three groups of people. The rulers aren’t exactly evil, but they are close-minded and fearful of change. I’m not making a statement about our world, any particular government, or any political party. It’s just a story.

So here’s my question: Do you think that all the classical writers intended for modern-day readers to dissect their works looking for meaning? Or did they just write because they wanted to tell a story?

*I almost titled this post, “The Write Touch” but it was so cliche I wanted to gag. And, every time I thought about it New Kids on the Block’s “The Right Stuff” would play in my head. No one wants to hear ohoh-oh-ohoh over and over again while imagining teenage boys doing a weird-looking penguin shuffle step. Right?


  • Lindsay N. Currie

    Okay, I’m a repeat offender in the dissection department. My focus in college was literary criticism. I think this depends on the writer. I have no idea if Shakespeare ever imagined we’d be sitting around in 2011 debating his sexuality and identity/social rank, but some of the innuendos make it hard for me to imagine that he didn’t want us to. Same for others – it just so happens that some of their agendas (social or political) are more obvious to me. Suzanne Collins Hunger Games seemed like a very obvious example of an agenda to me, but then again, perhaps it didn’t to someone else. Probably depends on the reader and the writer. . . two constantly changing variables. Have I confused everyone yet??

  • Sierra Gardner

    I don’t think there is actually anything wrong with ‘saying something’ in a story, as long as you trust the reader enough not to beat them over the head with it. Some stories are just entertaining, but the ones I like the best are the ones that make me re-evaluate my life a little.

  • Becky Wallace

    @Lindsay: I get it! I wrote a thesis on Christian allusions in Shakespearean literature…sometimes I found them and sometimes it was a stretch. To support my paper, I “found” allusions when I needed them.

  • Carol Riggs

    Ha, who knows if the classical writers REALLY had all that below-the-surface stuff going on as a conscious thing. Even with me, I figure some of that stuff out LATER in my books. But I suppose some (not all) writers have done it on purpose; they write on a totally diff level, very complexly.

    And I agree, I don’t like to read a book with too many clues. I’d rather be surprised after having not quite enough clues than to be overwhelmed with so many that the ending is uber-obvious.

  • Mflick1

    I have had this discussion several times among my students, peers, and college peers… I really think they just wanted to tell a good story…for the most part. I think put some morals and techniques into the story…but sometimes people go over board…and forget that its a good story too.

  • Heather Hellmann

    I remember my high school English teacher saying that Hemingway swore there was no symbolism or hidden meaning to The Old Man and the Sea. Yet, we spent days dissecting it and discussing symbolism that Hemingway said didn’t exist.

  • Doug

    I believe most authors start our heavy-handed, perhaps in an effort to influence or pass on an ideal. Most realize over time (usually via heroic editors) that such writing doesn’t get read.

    I believe the unconscious is a riddle, wrapped in a clue, bottled in an enigma. Hemingway, Kerouac, McMillan, all had personal messages they wanted to convey, and when they became subtle enough to digest. . .they succeeded.

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