There are many different ways to tell a story. And these are all stories that mean something to us (I’m assuming) on some deeper level that anything that most readers are able to pick up on right away. Even when the idea seems to be really obvious on the surface...there may be a lot of deeper meanings underneath it. And that can truly affect your readers in a fundamentally powerful way...even if only on a subconscious level. And that can end up being a very influential weapon indeed when you have something to say that many might find uncomfortable or difficult to deal with. Your fiction may have something that it really wants to say without really saying it...but the message can be delivered just the same if you know how to do it.
The truth is...nobody wants to be ‘taught a lesson’, even if it’s good for them. No one wants to feel like they’re being preached to from an elevated pulpit, and told how to act, think, and feel. Even though a majority of people live that life anyway, they don’t want to feel it. Hehehe, yeah, I don’t get it either! But...whatever.
However, if you can take whatever is on your mind...your joy, your sadness, your outrage, your personal philosophies...and put them within the context of a well written story...you just might end up reaching many more people than you ever thought you could have. And it’s all in the simple task of using metaphor to deliver your ideas beneath what’s being displayed on the surface of your average story. Now, I’m not talking about trying to push forth some kind of heavily determined agenda with your work. Hehehe, no need to be a bordeline fascist about it! But I totally understand the concept that sometimes writers just have something that they feel they need to say with their art. Sometimes it subtle, and sometimes it’s not so subtle. It all depends how you, as a creator want to place it on the scale. It’s your right to do so, so why not leave a courageous footprint behind that puts it out there the way that you see it? You know?
I hope that I’m not inspiring anybody to write anything truly despicable with this article. That’s not the point of any of this, I swear. What I’m saying is that there are ways to approach certain issues by writing them into your stories in an almost ‘sneaky’ way. Let people know how you feel. How can you entertain an audience without any authenticity to self? It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible. Isn’t it?
Please don’t use this as a license to be a total douchebag. If you’re one of those people who constantly get banned from Facebook or Twitter...then you’re probably taking your ‘freedoms’ a little too far over the line. So, you know...don’t do that.
Let me use the show, “Them”, as a prime example of what I’m talking about here. Now this is more of a heavy bash over the head approach to the theme of the series, but I felt that it was expertly done. The show is all about an up and coming black family that moves into a really nice affluent suburb neighborhood back in the 50’s...and are looking to build a better life for themselves. And the current residents can’t let THAT happen, can they? Ugh!
But the whole story is told through a lens of extreme frustration and madness that comes from having deal with that level of hatred, day after day, and whether it’s even worth it for the family to stay where they are, or if they should let their enemies win by chasing them away off of the property that they legally own and paid for. (People are SO fucked up sometimes!) I’m putting the trailer down below, and a scene to demonstrate how the story was being told beneath the story being offered on the surface.
“Them” takes a very dark turn...being a combination of “The Conjuring” and “The Shining” in the long run. It’s a fascinating series if you’re interested in watching it. I highly recommend it. It messes with your head in a major way. From the racist neighbors, to the haunted house, to the horrific ‘Pennywise’ level, minstrel evil clown that pops up to push the patriarch further into madness. It’s crazy, and I LOVE it! A very underrated series, in my opinion.
Now this is a story about racism and life back when this sort of behavior was accepted and embraced. Maybe even celebrated. But the lingering effects of it on the people being discriminated against is being told with an overlying theme of it being a haunting ghost story. It’s like the theme of the fiction shines by giving it a bit of a creative ‘tilt’ that is both intriguing and mysterious. The main message is clearly being delivered either way...but as a writer, you can send it in a way where people can consume and digest it without really being conscious of it being the main point until later. It’s like a pitcher unexpectedly throwing you a curve ball. It gives your story an added layer of depth and meaning, and being able to interpret and discuss what’s really going on underneath the surface of the main story increases it’s longevity overall. Because every person that reads it will see it in a different way, pick out different highlights, and will want to talk about it with other readers in order to compare and contrast their own thoughts and feelings with them. Not to mention the urge to re-read the story from the beginning to pick up little breadcrumbs that they might have missed the first time around.
All of these elements help to immortalize your stories in the hearts of your audience. And longevity is a good thing. Hehehe!
Another example of a layered story that was extremely well done and not really ‘hidden’, but woven into the fabric of another story entirely...was Marvel’s Netflix show, “Jessica Jones”. Now, I sort of remember Jessica Jones from the comic books (Mostly from the Avengers nearly beating her to death! LOL! Long story…), but her story here involves her recovering from a long standing relationship with a villain known mostly as ‘The Purple Man’. Someone with the power of complete mind control. Like...you’re conscious of what you’re doing, but are unable to stop yourself from doing it, regardless. Which sucks in this case, because he happens to be a bit of a sadist about it.
The whole first season is incredible if you ever get a chance to watch it. But the layer underneath? It’s basically a rape story. Rape and manipulation and abuse in a toxic relationship. It’s an edgy comic book show, sure...but you can easily see the underlying themes shining through in every episode. The idea of being controlled and forced to do things against your will...and the inner damage that it does to you over time. Jessica Jones is a truly intriguing and broken individual, and as a character, both vulnerable and standoffish at the same time (Played brilliantly by Krysten Ritter)...she shines brightly from the very first episode all the way to the last. Almost like a damaged, alcoholic, version of Wonder Woman, hehehe!
And yet...superhero vibe aside...it’s a story of rape and domestic abuse in a lot of ways. That deeper meaning is the real heart of this series, and it touches a core part of anyone who has ever felt trapped in that kind of relationship. Which is probably why it did so well when it was first released.
The stalking, the control, the intimidation, the pursuit of friends and loved ones...you definitely notice it when you see it, but there’s a part of you that still sees it as a comic book flavored story of a hero being pitted against a very formidable villain at the end of the day. As a writer, you have the ability to take what you really want to say, and change the meaning, the context, the genre, or the dramatic effect of whatever it is that you’re trying to create. That’s a huge part of the power and the joy that comes with being able to do whatever it is that you do. So, whether you’re trying to do this professionally, or just pursue it as a fun hobby in your spare time...enjoy it for all that it’s worth.
Your mind is the only limit you have when it comes to this stuff. Hehehe!
All you have to do is fully embrace the context of your story before you get started, and make little tweaks and changes here and there until it begins to take on a different shape. Stories about bullying, domestic abuse, drug addiction, love obsession, or loneliness...can end up being different stories entirely without hitting your audience over the head with your content. Another story that I truly felt was an excellent example of this technique was a movie about severe loss, fatigue, and frustration...but it was basically told in the form of a horror story. And that movie was “The Babadook”...which, if you’ve seen it, then you probably already know what I’m talking. The lurking ‘evil’ of the film’s main monster ends up taking a backseat to a bunch of other issues that come off as much more relatable and engaging to any audience that has ever experienced the kinds of feelings and exhaustion that’s going on here. Even if you’re not a horror fan, you won’t have to worry about gore or anything disturbing your ability to handle it. I suggest you give it a look, and take a few moments to further study what’s going on beneath the surface here.
There is an almost infinite number of ways of saying what you have to say without saying...but, you know...still saying it. Hehehe, if that makes sense! There are times for heavy blatant, heavy hitting, drama...and times for intimate subtlety. (Look for my article on “David And Goliath” soon!) The key is knowing the difference, and developing a natural instinct for when and where each option is most appropriate, and the most effective. It’s something that you have to think about and ultimately play around with until you get it right...but once you do, it doesn’t take much effort at all to bend it to your will and have some real fun with it. Give it a try some time!
Try telling one story under the guise of another, and see if you can still have it work. It’ll be awesome. You’ll see.
Alrighty then...I hope this gives you some insight on how I structured some of the stories that I’ve written over the year. I don’t want to list them here as it kind of ruins a bit of the effect, but I’m sure if you check out a great deal of my work, especially the sci fi or horror stuff, you’ll be able to pick out a great deal of underlying messages in there somewhere! I do enjoy them a great deal, after all.
Have fun writing, folks! And never pass up an opportunity to expand your skill set with something that you’ve never tried before. Because, win or lose, there’s always more growth to be had.
If you’ve already tried this out before, or just did it naturally, feel free to shar your experiences down below! Take care! And I’ll seezya soon!