Does a Story Need More?

A student of writing must by necessity also become a student of history.

Writing has existed on this planet for so long that it is a sign of enormous hubris (not to mention stupidity) to think that all a person needs to write a good book is a ream of paper and an idea. A studious examination of historical trends keeps a writer grounded.

For instance, Herman Melville became famous and wealthy in his day for writing simple tales of high adventure based on his own life experiences.

Then the poor fool became ambitious.

His next book, his magnum opus, Moby Dick, a timeless tale woven with hidden meanings, philosophical questions, and symbolism of the foolish tenacity of man, utterly and totally flopped.

The book bankrupted Melville. Refusing to compromise his artistic principles, Melville did not return to his simple adventure tales, and never published another book.

Fast forward to 70 years later.

Literary trends and tastes had changed to the point where people no longer wanted simple stories of adventure: they wanted a book where they could view mankind through a philosophical lens, just as Moby Dick delivered.

You know the rest.

Historians lauded Herman Melville as an unappreciated genius, and Moby Dick is considered one of the best books ever written.

But is it really?

I can say this because I’ve read Moby Dick, and I thought it was the most exhausting piece of piecemeal I’d ever read.

I don’t mean to gallop where angels fear to tread.

Myriad professors tout Moby Dick as the greatest book of American fiction, and I’m just an amateur writer, but after all, isn’t that what a blog is all about? To confidently shell out unfounded opinions and baseless knowledge?

#sheepishgrin

The book is well written, if long winded, and the subtle meanings of the book are not inserted subtly.

I talk about Melville and his writings today because they illustrate an question that’s on my mind more or less all of the time. My question is whether a book should have a hidden meaning in it or not to be a good book?

I am a huge fan of symbolism and allegory. I love reading and enjoying a book only to discover that there has been another story hidden from me the whole time, that I’ve only found by thinking deeply and reading between the lines.

I love Shakespeare, and C.S. Lewis, and many of the classical writers.

But in my reading, I’ve found that many enjoyable stories don’t have this depth to them.

They are only the recitation of fictional events well told.

I’ve always held that a good book has this deeper current to it. It shows the precision mind of the author; able to weave more stories together than at first glance.

But what am I to make of the writers of the second type? The men and women able to hold me captive with a simple tale well told?

Who are the truly good writers? Are they those with deep multi-story minds, or are they goldsmiths working with words?

To you, the answer must be obvious. Surely there are two kinds of writers, right? Two writers writing different kinds of stories, spurred on by a fire in their heart and a nimble finger for words.

I guess I was wrong.

All a person needs to write a book is a ream of paper and an idea.

Yes, I’ve read Moby Dick. Yes, it was rotten. Thanks for reading, people. I love you all.

-BW

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