Messages in our minds
Man is a rationalizing creature, not a rational one. We can no more order ourselves perfectly from top-down principles than we can tell ourselves “I’m going to eat right, exercise, and get all my chores done from now on!” (Well, we can say that. You all know exactly how well it works.)
Instead, we process things in stories, dreams, and songs, and from such inside ourselves, work out the principles by which we live. As a Christian, I believe this is why G-d sent a part of himself to be his Son, and die for us – because there are some things so profound we need to understand it by example, by story, and internalize it before we can understand it as a rational truth or set of principles.
As consumers of story, we know this: stories not only make you think, make you try new foods or learn new skills because you read about them, and present other points of view for you to consider, they also teach us “this is the hero” and “this is the villain”, and these are people we should be like, and these are people we shouldn’t. If you do this, it will end badly for you. If you choose to do that, it is the right thing, and it will go well. As C.S. Lewis put it, Fairy stories don’t teach children there are monsters; children already know that. They teach children how to deal with monsters.
As tellers of story, the temptation is to come up with the message first, then create the story to fit. But that’s like telling yourself that you must only eat keto and stay on budget when you’re grocery shopping while hungry. Or out with friends at a restaurant. (We know how well that works.) We don’t read for rationalization, nor for message, we read for story, and twisting the story, or stopping it to shoehorn in message, makes for bad story and unhappy readers. This isn’t to say that it can’t be done, but that it’s very, very hard to do well and very easy to do terribly.
And here’s the rub: it doesn’t matter what your message is. It can be “the good guys win in the end” or it can be “humanity is a plague upon the earth.” There is no special pass on the “right” message, or the virtuousness of that message – they all suck the joy, entertainment, catharsis, and fun right out of the story, break the suspension of disbelief, and leave an annoyed reader.
That said, because stories are the way we internalize, rationalize, and solve problems, anything we create will have messages from our subconscious to our conscious mind. The stories we read shape how we view the world, and how we view the world shapes the stories we make. So you’ll find messages in your stories, even when you didn’t mean for them to be there.
So, how do you shape your stories so they organically contain the messages you want to? By taking care of your mental health.
No, seriously. If you’re going through depression, it shows in the stories. So do a whole host of other issues, as well as any major questions or issues your brain is chewing over. Making your life better will make your stories better. So have faith in yourself, and in G-d, and in the future of humanity. Resolve to make your day better, to speak the truth and stand up straight, and to help yourself. And when you fail, just like characters do, pick yourself up, spit out the dirt, and keep trying. Take your mental gaze off despair or dread, and learn something, do something, and be something.
Your life, and your writing, will be all the better for it.