I know (I think) many stories that have a point they want to present to the audience.

However, I wanted to focus on the excitement of the adventure first. The result always seems to devolve into a dry style as though reading a manual. On the other hand, focusing too much on "proving a point" comes off more as preaching to the audience, and ends up muddying the story.

Should I be aiming for a happy middle ground between the two, or is it possible to write a satisfying story that revolves around the characters rather than, say, a moral?

3 Answers 3


Stories are not about proving points. A novelist may have a point they want to push, but if the point overwhelms the story than the result can only appeal to the people who already agree with the author's point. The great novelists who had a point they wanted to make (Steinbeck, Dickens) told a story about people oppressed by the institutions they opposed and by and large left the reader to draw their own conclusions. They created an experience with sympathetic characters and in so doing won the sympathies of many who might otherwise have been indifferent.

But the real question you have to face here is what makes a story exciting? It is not a catalogue of incidents happening for no discernible reason to people you don't care about. Just telling the tale, in the sense of just relating the incidents of the plot, does not work because it does not create engagement.

Between the plot and the point, there must be a character arc. At the heart of the character arc is a moral question that the character must face. By moral question I mean simply that it is a question about values for the character. It does not have to mean the the writer is advocating for one moral system over another. But it is the moral question that the character faces, how they face it, and how they decide that provides the core of the excitement for the reader.

Will Rick remain the guy who won't stick his neck out for anyone? Will he get on the plane with Ingrid Bergman? Or will he decide the the problems of two small people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world? Will Louis let Major Strasser arrest Rick for letting Laslo escape or will he to join the resistance? These are all moral choices that the characters do not want to have to face, but are forced into facing by events. That is where you find the excitement in a story.


"Just telling the tale" doesn't work. It's not enough to "show what." The more interesting task is to show why.

Take the children's tale of "The Tortoise and the Hare." A tortoise challenged a hare to a footrace. All the other animals came to see the "lopsided" race. The hare got off to a good start, took a large early lead, and then went to sleep halfway through the course. The tortoise persisted, overtook the hare, built a lead, and got to the finish line first, despite a late burst by the hare. That's a "show what" story that is suitable only for children.

Most adults would be interested in the "show whys." Why did the tortoise challenge the hare to a race at long odds? Was s/he tired of the hare's boasting. Did the tortoise feel that the hare would be overconfident and not take the race seriously, or perhaps had earlier observed the hare's tendency to procrastinate? Was the hare "hung over" on the day of the race, and did s/he have a drinking problem? Any of these factors would "shorten" the odds, and make the challenge less improbable.

Let's look afterward. Would the hare challenge the tortoise, the new "champion" to a rematch. Would the tortoise dare to accept? Or would the tortoise "retire" from the field, having made a point.

  • Duh, we all know it was fixed. Funny how the tortoise was never dope tested.
    – Surtsey
    May 28, 2017 at 18:37
  • @Surtsey totally. Were I that hare, I'd also go check myself for residual rohypnol, ketamine or gamma-hydroxybutyrate in my system, for that hangover on the date of the race was something special...
    – Lew
    May 30, 2017 at 14:53

What do you want to achieve? In the 'free market economy' bad news doesn't sell. Good must always overcome evil, wrongs must be avenged. "How I got away with killing the neighbour's puppy" isn't going to sell - however well it is written.

The "dry style" is probably unrelated to whether or not your story has a moral. Writing a novel requires a different style and skill-set than other disciplines. Most people would loathe to read a 100,000 word newspaper article.

Hopefully you will discover how to make your work more suspenseful and intriguing. But a linear tale of 'things that happened' is extremely hard to pull off. Readers need a reason to turn the page.

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