Many stories seem to want to do more than tell an exciting story. For lack of a better phrase, they "have something to say"--above characters and plots they want to make a point about something. Sometimes they have points to make about human relationships and human nature. Others have a moral to the story, like "Crime Doesn't Pay." And still others incorporate a social commentary into the story.

I am interested in everyone's take on this. How important do you consider these elements? Do you like them?

When reading, do such things distract you, or do they add to the story? What are some common and uncommon themes that you've read?

When writing, how conspicuous do you make them? How conscious are you of their part in your writing?

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I meant that we remember those elements in the average crime book because that's what the book was about. In a good one, we remember character. Sorry if that was vague.
Ah, sorry Patricia - and I completely agree with you! Except sometimes, I don't remember ANYTHING :o)
That's most often the case at my age unfortunately!!
Any good book has something of value to say though it may not always be earth-shattering. Pulling off a compelling presentation of the BIG MESSAGE is fairly hard, but settling for revealing character and what that says about all of us is often more important for me and certainly more manageable. Ruth Rendell or Michael Crichton often go for the BIG MESSAGE and both are sometimes successful. But the jacket copy that outlines it often puts me right off. Oh, no, not global warming again. Oh, no, not exploited foreign workers again. I'm not callous but it drives the narrative too much. It just makes most books too didactic to even serve its purpose.
For me - it's the pretender to the Da Vinci Code crown line that's starting to bring me out in hives :) :)

I've read a couple of those for review recently and one really worked as a book in it's own right (I'd shoot my publicist if I was the author) and the other was just funny (I don't think it was supposed to be). Ultimately the "message" in the first one was well done - understated, able to be concluded from the reading of the book and not "addressed". (That book was The Last Testament by Sam Bourne). Of course it could very well be that I was reading more into the possible "message" than was actually there - but then they are the sorts of books that I like - the ones where I'm left wondering if that was trying to tell me something / revealed something about the human condition I hadn't considered before.
I dislike agendas in books because they almost always distort reality to make a point. They are propaganda, in other words.
I like books that say something about the human condition, flawed though it may be. And I like a book to hold out a bit of hope that life may be worth living after all.
Which authors do you find yourself following? I can agree with you very much on the last point. It's going to be a long while before I pick up 1984 again.
I don't know about following. I always seem to write things only I'm interested in. But I read police procedurals. And I like Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series. I also like Stuart MacBride (new to me, but better than Rankin, I think), and Henning Mankell. And of course, R.D.Wingfield and Colin Dexter, and sometimes Reginald Hill. Etc. There are many writers who turn out top-notch plots with interesting characters without sacrificing realism or optimism.


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