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?