Making It Mean Something

On his blog, author Matt de la Peña has a great post about why trying to write something “meaningful” isn’t the goal a writer should have. Books can be meaningful, but it’s the readers who create that meaning:

“A few months ago there was a lot of chatter about how “YA Saves” (a response toa strange article in WSJ claiming contemporary YA novels have become too dark). Many authors were outraged (including me) and some began claiming that their books save lives (aka land planes) — which I’m sure many of their books have. But it’s a bad idea for an author to “set out” to write a life-saving book in the same way that it’s a bad idea to set out to write a an anti-abortion book. Agenda usually leads to bad fiction. And I think it’s the reader who makes a book a life-saver. Not the author. Right time, right place, inventive interpretation. And usually it’s a savvy librarian or teacher who reads a situation and pairs a book with a reader.”

So true. I’m sure secretly, all writers want to create something that “matters” and will connect with readers. But that drive can come at the expense of an organic narrative and rich characters. And, as Matt points out, you never know what will connect with a particular reader. When my grandfather died, I was twelve and didn’t know how to handle this loss. I locked myself in my room and tore through copies of Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik books. They weren’t about death or grief or grandparents. They weren’t even very serious. But I remember how those books helped me through a difficult moment.

Mostly, I think writers should focus on the story they want to tell. Someone will pick up on the meaning there, or find a new one for themselves.

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