Before I really sat down and thought about this question, I would have said, without hesitation, NO! I did not believe stories always had to have a message. In fact, to go a little further, I would have said I detested stories that have a message.
That is a hangover from my childhood, when it wasn’t enough for stories to be fun or interesting, they also had to be ‘improving’ – and how I hated improvement being forced upon me! Even now I shy away from anything that overtly seeks to make me a better person.
Having said all that, I have been thinking about this topic and trying to set aside my own prejudices, and I have come to a startling conclusion. I have decided the answer to this question is actually – YES! A story should always have a message. Wow! I’ve done a complete u-turn on this!
Because you see, I know (I have been told by others and have also read it and believe it to be true) it is easier to write a book based on a premise. It gives you something to aim for, a goal to reach. That also means your plot events, and your characters have to either approve/support/aid your premise, or they have to disapprove/hinder/fight against your premise. So your premise underpins and informs every aspect of the story.
And if that happens – well, it seems to me you’ve got a message.
But for me it will still be a question of subtlety. I don’t want to read – or write – a book that lectures me upon morality – I have my moral standards, thank you very much. So I think a message doesn’t have to be large in scale and scope, it can be simple, humble or small. It doesn’t have to be intellectual or highbrow or literary. It can be as straightforward as ‘the harder we try the worse we make things’. (Maybe suited to a comedy?)
If by ‘having a message’ we can also mean making someone think, or poking a little fun at the basically ludicrous reality of everyday life on this strange planet we call home, then yes, I’m all for a message. In fact I’d go a step further and say I’ve done it myself. When I set out to write my Posh Hits Trilogy, I wanted to create a character who thinks she’s a good person, who everyone else thinks is a good person – but deep down inside she is, of course, a monster.
So I guess what I’m saying is, yes by all means have a message, but the success in getting it across depends on how you do it.