Fantasy Stories – Writing with a Purpose

Cosplay, magic. Lone warrior holding a fire sword

Often I am asked why I write fantasy. What is my motivation?

This topic came up at a Dragoncon convention in Atlanta several years ago. I was a panelist in the young adult literature section, and one of the other panelists pontificated that it was wrong to insert themes or morals into a story as a way to influence behavior. Supposedly authors have no right to exert such influence or to use their writing platform to preach. Stories should be morally neutral with no absolutes so readers can “decide for themselves.”

I countered that there is no such thing as moral neutrality, and an attempt at fostering such relativism is, in itself, a way to influence behavior. It preaches that values are subjective, and such a sermon leads readers to believe that all behaviors can be justified. And that results in corruption of mind, body, and soul as well as the culture at large.

Also, if authors write with intentionally influential themes, readers are still able to decide for themselves. No one is holding a gun to their heads.

If an author writes with no purpose or no thought about affecting the moral landscape of our culture, I see no reason to read that author’s work. It will be have no impact intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually. Readers will close the book and forget it in short order. It might be heart-thumping, but it is the literary equivalent of a sugar rush. It builds nothing, and it might even tear down.

In order to explain my purpose in writing, I put together this video narrated by my lovely wife, Susie. Enjoy.

Comments and questions are welcome.

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18 replies

  1. I actually agree with this fully. Books in which have no concept of morality in them, in which they try to give it to the reader to decide are extremely bland and just feel like they are missing crucial elements. I would rather read a book in which the morality is directly opposed to mine rather than none at all, because than at least they picked a stance to have.

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  2. wow! After almost 20 years in the helping profession (social work, counseling), God led me to write: Return to Spirit. It is a novel and highly “influential in behavior”. Why? Because it will save their life. How, by presenting to them real “bread”, something I could never do in social /work counseling. because in that environment, truly you can not mention Jesus, or any “religion” (I hate that word, their is only one “religion”: Jesus. But anyway . . . ). Wow–i really have a pet peeve about that comment that came up in that conference . . . I’ll get over it of course! But I guess, people will come up with anything! 🙂 Morning rant . . . haven’t even poured coffee yet 🙂

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  3. I agree, and you said it very well. I think people also forget that people have the full ability to choose what books they read and therefore what they are influenced by, and that considering the great variety of points different books make, people certainly have the means to evaluate all sides before making a decision, if they so choose.

    I don’t know how that guy thinks people can write deep, powerful, or even simply realistic characters without adding morals and points to it. Such things are a part of life regardless of what any of us do, and stories are supposed to be a reflection of life on some level.

    One of my favorite shows is often said to not push any particular answer or moral solution, but there are certainly discussions about morals and points that can be taken from the story whether they are intended or not. (Some possible points would be that the world is a terrible place and none of us will make perfect decisions no matter how hard we try, there isn’t any one perfect way to just make the entire world better and it is dangerous to think that there is, etc.) Plus, each character has his own point of view on the answer to moral dilemmas.

    Sorry for the essay, I’m in a hurry so I hope it made sense.

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  4. This is why I tend to stick to Christian fantasy.
    Every once in a while, I find a “secular” work that has a bit of a moral/lesson (or at least an intriguing story) to it. I think, “Yay! Something good!” But then I get a decent bite of the book.
    Blech. Not fun…
    I believe that, at some point in my life, I’ve read a story that was “neutral.” But if I have, I don’t remember it. 😛

    God bless, Mr. Davis!
    -Symona

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  5. Very interesting. Thanks for the post!

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  6. I whole-heartedly agree! 😀
    This, again, reminds me of the lessons I’ve been taking with One Year Adventure Novel. One of the very first lessons in writing your story is choosing what Positive Ideal your hero will embody and what Negative Ideal your villain will embody [that is the opposite of your hero’s Ideal]. So, your characters have meaning just as your whole story has meaning! You Cannot Escape It! X-D [Pardon my dramatic emphasis.]
    Even if you try to write without purpose, that “purpose” will come thru in your story.

    Again, very well said, Mr. Davis! 🙂

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  7. Perhaps an article may be written objectively, but is it possible to craft a story that provides no clues of our own values? We are fashioned in the image of a God who made Himself evident in His creation, whose nature is understood through what has been made. Our passions, our longings, our agonies, our loves tend to manifest themselves in our work, abstractly or concretely, whether we like it or not. We expire what first coursed through our own veins.

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  8. Fiction definitely makes a huge impact on lives. While reading you can be more immersed than any other media form. I think one thing we need more of is morality in fiction and media in general. Humanism is so widely promoted, that it seems like good books and movies that have good morals are hard to find and some of those are too preachy. I’ve always put your books and the good books list, Mr. Davis. 🙂 It’s important to set good, grounded examples of moral behavior.

    Stori Tori’s Blog

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  9. Personally, I think people don’t understand the difference between “themes” and “propaganda.” Ultimately, even shows like Walking Dead (which I swear is just Revolution with Zombies) and Revolution engage in theme: What makes one human, and what makes the Good Guys (even the gray characters) distinct from the Bad Guys?

    On top of that, I think that, by and large, society has forgotten how to debate. Since they cannot look at one writer’s opinion, analyze it, and generate their own thought, they assume they’re being brainwashed rather than try to engage the text. If you can’t read a book and decide for yourself if you agree with it, I can’t help your own willful ignorance.

    But I think it’s self-deception to insist values are subjective while at the same time promoting “tolerance” and “diversity.” True tolerance will put up with but not embrace, and true diversity embraces the good and shuns the evil in all varieties of peoples.

    @ Jeremy Derbe – I agree. I’m growing increasingly of the mind that I’d rather read or watch something I know I will disagree with unilaterally than some kind of confusing mushpot that says nothing and is nothing. At least then I’m forced to understand why I disagree, or discover something about that belief that I didn’t understand or know before.

    @Autumn – Yeah, I happen to like seeing the multi-perspective as well, but the strength, as you’ve said, seems to be in its ability to use the multi-perspective to generate discussion, so it’s effectively doing the same as a single-perspective with only one moral compass coming through would do. Does that make sense?

    You know, just for free, and I say this without any bitterness toward the CBA world at all because it’s they who gave me a love for fiction and they who coached me in being a writer: Sometimes the “Christian genre” label can be just as bad. Not all Christians have good theology, and, well, every now and then I read something and wonder how the book found its way on a Christian shelf, it’s so secular in its theology and morality. I mean, people are people, and sometimes we’re just wrong.

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