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In Defense of Story for Story's Sake

Shamelessly thieving from Oscar Wilde - just like everyone else

I'm a pretty well-read guy (I'd like to think). I've read oodles of novels and plays and short stories. So many that I cannot recall most of the books I read in my childhood. I am an entertainment sponge like so many of this day and age with TV shows, comics, movies, video games and a plethora of internet goodies ready to fill my brain.

As a massive consumer of stories and entertainment that cannot quite be classified as a "story", I've developed an opinion:

It doesn't matter what social issues you want to attack with your piece, what systems you want to undermine - what matters is that you've told the story well, that it was engaging and sucked me right in. Everything else is secondary to the story.



That doesn't mean I disapprove of stories with a message - I love plenty of "message"-oriented stories and written a few myself. But too much focus on the message, for me, almost always detracts from the story and annoys me.

Yes, this is very much about personal taste. I find heavy-handed moralizing distasteful most of the time, yet I really liked the play Disgraced which has very heavy issues at its core. I think what makes it work is that it didn't sacrifice the characters or story for the sake of making a point.

In my mind, if the writer has to reduce one thing - the story or the message - the message should always be the one that's reduced. It's part of the reason I have mixed feelings about Brecht; because on one hand, I love the style of his plays (I am also of the belief that theatre should make use of the many disparate elements of performance, if possible), but the fact that his characters and plots were little more than vehicles for ideas bugs me.

If you're so intent with beating a message over our heads, then why bother with the pretense of story? If your story can titillate the mind, then good for you. But if I don't care about the characters or the events unfolding, then why bother with the damn story? Bad ethnodrama leaves me with this feeling, as did reading the play ¡Cuba Sí! by Terrence McNally, a playwright I normally enjoy.

A phrase I came up with (I think) to express my thoughts nice and succinctly - Art can make a statement, but statement isn't inherently art.

Again, I think this is just so much a matter of personal taste. If your jam is the message-heavy stuff with a thin story to justify it, then by all means, enjoy away. But it's not the sort of thing I often enjoy, nor is it the sort of thing I enjoy writing. 

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