When I was in the process of editing my first novel, I sent it out to some peers whose opinion I valued. Graciously, most of them pointed out legitimate issues that needed fixing. I was extremely grateful for this, but one review in particular stood out to me, and kind of gave me a new view on my novel.
“Overall, I enjoyed the deeper points throughout the story.” She wrote to me. “That is normally my primary problem with modern fiction: it tends to have no “meat” or something think-worthy beneath the story. The recurring themes of honor and power and whether they are good or bad was especially ‘meaty.’ It made me think a little deeper on these things myself, and that ‘summon to think’ makes it a good book in my opinion.”
It stopped me for a moment. Sure, I knew that writing a novel wasn’t just about entertaining the reader, but I hadn’t especially talked about that “summon to think” part of the novel. But it’s true, isn’t it? An especially interesting movie or book keeps you thinking: it doesn’t just present literary candy for you to snap up. Quality writing is more like a steak dinner: healthy, tasty, and dense.
Some art mostly appeals to our feelings, like music. It would be hard to rationalize why you love a certain song. You’d have to give a reason like “Oh, I just like those kinds of songs” or “I seriously enjoyed the lyrics”. In the end, the only reason why you liked it is…because you liked it.
Now, this is natural. Music appeals to our feelings very strongly, so we can only rationalize why we do like it in a poor manner. However, why you like your music is different from why you like this particular wrench. In fact, you probably like it because it’s more useful. This is a practical reason, not like why you love the kind of music you do.
Writing is…different, to say the least. Technically, you could explain why this certain music is so appealing, but it certainly can’t be determined at face value. However, literature almost always has a thought (or multiple thoughts) attached. All literature has a “call to think” however small.
The main reason for this is because literature is an analytical work of the mind. Sure, there’s a large creative factor attached, but you don’t create it like you do music: with music, you judge it on how it sounds and how it makes you feel. This is perfectly acceptable to the musician. In fact, it’s what they should be aiming for.
With writing, you can’t just play on the feelings of the consumer. There is a reason why you like a book, and it’s not simply that “you like the book”. There must be something about the book that you liked, and part of that is the call to thought.
When you’re experiencing a great or fun piece of art, you’re going to be sad when it’s over. You may go and read the sequel, but before long you get to the end of that, as well. Thinking about the book’s “meaty” ideas is a way our minds naturally extend the joy of experiencing art. You never want to let go of good art, and if you truly enjoyed a good story, you could tell me why.
Maybe you liked the themes of courage and romance, or whether someone gets credit for trying to be good over someone who has achieved good moral status. Should responsibility to strangers be prized over responsibilities to friends and loved ones? Are you allowed to sink to your opponent’s level if it is the only way to defeat them?
Such questions are at the heart of the call to thought. If you enjoy the call to thought as a reader (hey, I know that I do) you should consider putting some of these themes in your book. Use your novel to communicate ideas about morality, responsibility, and what it means to live a good life.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!