Telegram For The Reader

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-03-08 16:00:00-05:00 No comments

A line from Ebert, when reviewing Atom Egoyan's Exotica: "A film can only get so far by simply stating its message; if the message is that easily defined, why bother with the film?" The same goes for any work that could have a "message" embedded in it. The message is something we can build on or around, but not exclusively with. One ought to have a story to get wrapped up in, and in that story, someone to follow and give a damn about. The experience of the story is, well, an experience of its own.

I think it was Jack Warner who said something like, "If I want someone to send a message, they can use Western Union." And yet some of the very best movies made on his watch at Warner Brothers, and in the years following it, all have something we could call a message. It's just that there is far more than that alone.

I have several works slated for the future that all could be said to have a Message. I do not want that Message to be something I put in the title, or on the cover blurb. It should be something that delivers itself through and atop whatever I do in the story, or I might as well be pamphleteering.

The other day someone was grousing about a work of fantasy that had as one of its messages the assertion that colonialism was bad. I don't think anyone here is going to argue with that assertion, but for a novel, there needs to be more to it than the mere assertion. There needs to be some analysis of the effects of colonialism on everyone involved, which is why a book like Joseph Conrad's Nostromo, or Sembene Ousmane's God's Bits Of Wood, has so much to say about the subject. Or a movie like The Battle of Algiers.

Sometimes I find it's best not to look for a message first and a story later. Maybe instead figure out what story you want to tell — who it's about and how it's about them — and then see what message suggests itself out of that. This has happened to me a couple of times now, but each time it was for the better. It only really clicked for me that Unmortal was not about "the gimmick", but about slavery and freedom and subjugated peoples until I was well into the worldbuilding. The trick was to make that stuff all part of the story without turning it into a bunch of lectures about how this thing is bad and that thing is good. It's one thing entirely to say that a people deserves its own nation, and another thing entirely to detail the complexities and contradictions of actually making that happen. The details were the story, not the mere assertion of the idea.

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