Mark Paxson

In response to Berthold’s post, I have thoughts.

When I first started writing, I was a regular on a website called Toasted Cheese. It’s still around and produces one of the best literary e-zines there is. But, back then, I remember posting something about whether stories have to have “a point.”

So … let me back up a bit more. Back to high school. I hated English class because we were always asked to analyze what the writer meant. What their point was. And all I thought was … maybe the writer wrote the story or the poem simply because they wanted to write a story. Must every story have a point?!

I still feel this way. But when I asked this question on Toasted Cheese, the response I remember getting was something like “yes, every story has a point even if you don’t think there is one.” Yes, even my stories … had a point, whether I intended a point or not.

And that just continues to rankle me. With one exception, I haven’t stories with the intention of making a point. I just write stories based on an idea and to see what I can do with that idea.

Which brings up Berthold’s question. Depth. I feel like this is related to whether or not a story should have a point. Sure, some stories have a point. That doesn’t mean all stories have a point. Nor do all stories have to have “depth,” which, to be honest, I’m not sure what that actually means.

I now this. My first novel was what I believed was a simple story. Since then, my ideas have got more complex, more layered. But not necessarily more “depth.” At least as I understand the term.

One of my current works in progress is a dystopian take on the U.S. in the near future. It has some complexities to it, but ultimately is a simple tale. Recently though I read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, which are also a dystopian tale. They provide me with some ideas for even more complexity, and more depth to the story I’m working on. And I think about that and wonder if I want to go there. Do I really want to write something other than the “simple” story I thought of when I started this thing? Do I really want to include within the story ruminations of human nature and how people can get to the point where they get to in my story? Or do I just want that stuff to happen organically.

That’s where I have a difficulty with “depth” in stories. Frequently, I feel like the author uses a chain saw where a scalpel would have done. The “depth” or the “point” becomes so oppressive that it destroys the story that is really what I want to read. My preference is that a story be the story and that readers take from it what they will. Even if one reader says “ah, yes, the moon is made of green cheese,” while another reader says “now I understand the Pythagorean theorem.”

This is the beauty of writing. Of fiction. A writer writers. Readers read and take from it what they will. There doesn’t have to be a point. There doesn’t have to be depth. Except for that which the reader gets from the words on the page.


  1. Like you, I think depth should be something readers find in a story (and I’ll bet it will take different forms for different readers). When a writer deliberately tries to add depth to their story, they’ll likely make a mess of it.
    On the other hand, I have added symbolic details and “Easter eggs” to some of my works; don’t know if that constitutes “depth.” I do know it shouldn’t matter if a reader doesn’t notice them. They’re just extras.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I say those count as depth. I love “Easter eggs” in stories, like when Lovecraft would include hidden references to some of his other writer friends.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My Easter eggs are references to things in HPL’s stories.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. chucklitka says:

    I have been watching a series of YouTube interviews with SF authors on Media Death Cult, and I have been very impressed with how articulate and how thoughtful they are. Plus, how much thought they put into their writing as they explore concepts and what-ifs. I think many authors try to put depth into their stories while at the same time attempting to make them also entertaining. But I think that depth is optional, rather than required. The payoff for doing so, as I mentioned in my last comment, might be that the story is long remembered and kept alive by the people who keep classics classic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. kingmidget says:

      As with a lot of what we discuss here, a writer should get to write the story he or she wants. And the reader gets to “interpret” that story however he or she wants.

      With my last novella I thought of adding some material to get it over the novel word count threshold. I decided not to because I felt it would be obvious filler to a reader.

      I feel the same way about “depth” if it happens organically as I’m writing, fine. But I’m not going to add depth because somebody says a story has to have depth. Or a point. Or meaning. Beyond the telling of the story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. chucklitka says:

        I both write and read purely for entertainment. To go places and see things with imaginary friends that you won’t find in real life. I have nothing to say about the human condition. I discovered Taoism in college, and realized its basic outlook was me. I keep things simple and intuitive. But if anyone is more ambitious than I, and seeks to be remembered, I think thought and insight into the human condition is required. Critics, intellectuals, and fans keep books alive, you have to please them all to be remembered.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. kingmidget says:

        Same … I read for entertainment. I write with the hope that I can bring entertainment to other readers. And to the extent I “try” for anything it is to write stories that are easy to read. One of my mentors would always say that reading a story isn’t supposed to be difficult. I view “depth” as something that can weigh down a story, take away some of the entertainment factor, and risk making the reading of the story too hard for some readers.

        Liked by 1 person

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