What Are You Saying?

This post, by Jenny Hilborne, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog on 7/4/12 and is reprinted here in its entirety with that site’s permission.

“What is the main theme or message of the book?”

I heard this question quite a bit on a booth I shared with 5 other authors at the LA Festival of Books this past April. I’ll admit it had me a bit stumped and I had to scramble for an answer. Madness and Murder has a theme of second chances woven through it, although I wasn’t actually aware of this until a reader pointed it out in a review. 

When I start writing a new novel, I have a main plot in mind and a possible working title, and that’s it. I definitely don’t have any kind of message or theme on my mind. If I’m honest, I don’t intend to convey any kind of message in my novels. I write to entertain rather than to educate. One reason for this is that I can’t be sure my message, should I decide to send one, would be interpreted in the way I intended.

I’d like to pose a question to readers: how important is it for a novel, a work of fiction, to carry a message? Does it need to be moralistic? 

I read fiction (thrillers) because I like to be entertained and I enjoy trying to solve the mystery. I’ve never thought much about whether there was a message in the books I read, and it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment if there isn’t one. Having just read (and loved) To Kill A Mockingbird, I’m not so sure anymore. I believe books with a message are more memorable and stay with the reader for longer. These are the books that generate conversation, which creates interest and spreads the word among the reading community.  Without a message, does the book stand a chance of breaking out from the ever-growing crowd? 
I’ve read books by authors who use their work to express themselves and their personal opinions, be it politics, religion, whatever. I tend to shy away from those. As a reader of fiction, I don’t want to know the author’s opinion on a subject and have it slant the outcome of the novel, or have it shoved down my throat. I just want a good story. After a little thought on the subject, I’d say I’m of the opinion a message is fine, good even, as long as it’s not too intense, but I don’t care if there isn’t one. How do you feel about it? Do you feel let down if there is no underlying message?


Read the rest of the post on the Crime Fiction Collective blog.