The Hidden Meaning/Message

Every story has has a main message, something the author wants to say indirectly. That’s what every high school student who has an English class learns, though very often the message is a topic of contention. It may be as simple as good will always triumph over evil, or as convoluted as nothing we do in this world matters, since one day no one will remember us, so live a life you can be proud of.

The most celebrated books, the ones that people talk about for years after they have been published, are the ones that have a message, one that people don’t realize until they have finished reading and they then sit back and think, “Wow. That was simply… brilliant.” Even Harry Potter, which has so many fans, has a message: that love can overcome any evil. The best example, though, is perhaps The Catcher in the Rye. The message in this novel stays buried until the very end but it is clearly the entire purpose of the novel. Every moment, every scene, was helping to build up to the moment of unveiling.

I think that, secretly, everyone who writes has a message they are trying to tell. Their main motivation is to be a storyteller but deep down, hidden in the many layers of the story, lies the author’s direct thoughts. And those thoughts are really the purpose of writing so many words, spending so many months, days, and hours in developing this story. Certainly, some people do write just to be storytellers, but most writers are people who loved English class and if there’s one thing people who loved English class love, it’s hidden meaning.

The question lies in how to envelop your story into this one concept. And, as I am still simply an English student and the development of my own story is slow, I have no answer. It is worth noting, however, that dialogue is key. Everything your protagonist, antagonist, and support characters say must be significant. If they are meant to represent something, they must embody it entirely if you are to pull it off. If there is a symbol that accurately personifies your idea, have it appear in every important scene. And no, not every scene is important. There has to be some comic relief, or companionship, or something that helps to make your story more lifelike.

Yes, this is a daunting task. If it was easy, everyone would do it. If you can do it right, though, I think you will manage to separate yourself from everyone else who wants to be an author. Look at it this way: when your masterpiece is placed into the hands of an editor, it needs to stand out from the hoards of others piling up on the desk. Everyone has violence, romance, or mystery, so why not add a new feature?

Bashful Beginnings

I still feel shy talking about my book. It’s almost like I’m ashamed, and I’m only recently admitting that I’m even writing one. For the longest time, I have hidden it, pushing it deep into the recesses of my mind to be dredged up on long car rides where all there is to do is think. I told myself that it was because I didn’t want people badgering me about how far I’ve gotten or to explain the plot, but I now see that it was more than that.

When people who are younger say that they are writing a book, they get indulgent smiles. It’s like people are judging them. There are a lot of teenagers who say that they are going to write a book and very few actually carry through. Or, and this seems to happen more often, what they have written is sloppy and does a lot of jumping around. As a result, untried writers are often indulged rather than encouraged and most people seem to expect failure.

I couldn’t help it; I didn’t want to be grouped with teenagers who took a half formed idea and haphazardly bunched it into an amateur story. I still don’t. So when I talk about my book, I’m deliberately vague and I make it sound like something I’m going to do in the future, not something I’m working on now. I hint at character ideas, plot twists, or different races of people. I get feedback from my friends and don’t let them know that I am actually writing about this and that their ideas are helping to sculpt my book.

Now that I’m in college, my perspective on my book has changed. Conviction has settled itself upon my shoulders and under its guidance I am finally taking this task seriously. It is no longer a vague idea that I dreamed up and wrote a couple pages for. I have now created a unique world, with a wide variety of characters. My plot is solidifying so that I think I can finally explain my book clearly, not just as a selection of half formed notions. I have nuances in cultures and characters and silly superstitions, something that before never even occurred to me. What was once a half remembered dream that I decided to write down one morning has now evolved into something new with possibility beyond my original expectations.

It’s been hard to reach this point, I won’t lie about that. I don’t have a book published to help me prove to people that I can not only write, but I can write well enough to make people want to buy my story. Instead, the only way I can convince people is through my words and I find the task increasingly daunting. My first book, my first story, my first chapter, my first page, my first paragraph, my first sentence, all of it needs to draw in a reader who doesn’t know me and then make them crave more. They need to rave and rant to their friends about how wonderful this book is. How there’s this really cool thief at one part who like to talk in accents and a drunken king who walks around everywhere with a glass of wine. Give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed.

As a result of all this pressure, I find myself rereading what I have written and thinking: Am I being to vague? Does that dialogue have a purpose or am I just filling space? More importantly, is the dialogue a believable conversation between two people? Have I described my characters well enough to bring forth their essence in a readers mind? I know I’m overanalyzing everything and more often than not I have to set my book aside and come back another day, when I can just relax in the joy of writing and not stress about the future of it.

The only comfort I can find is that every writer starts where I am now. Every single one, whether it was Shakespeare or the writer of a dime novel. I am walking in the footsteps that countless writers before me have taken and I just have to remember that, just as their conviction and stubbornness helped them to achieve their goals, so will mine. I just have to believe in what I write and the rest will come with time.

Educators Lacking Emphasis

I am a 19 year old college student in Michigan. Those of you who reside in Michigan know that I had to push through a really crappy educational system to get here and that the standards for public education drop every year. We all gripe and moan about the low standards, but not much is being done.

I’ve gone through many different types of educational institutions so far. When I was in elementary school, I lived in the city and I went to a private Catholic school. My parents paid extra because they wanted me to have a good education. That school was tough. Recess was a solace from the constant work. Going home just meant that I had a pile of homework to do that would take me most of the night to complete only to continue again in the morning. Even though it was tough, I actually learned something while I was there. It wasn’t wasted effort. The teachers believed in our potential and pushed us to do better. When we didn’t finish our homework, they told us how disappointed they were in us and I always felt ashamed that I chose to go out and play rather than do it. The only downside to the school was the people: they were mostly snobby, rich kids who had the best of everything: toys, games, clothes. In comparison, my parents had to work hard to get me into the school and, while we got by, we certainly weren’t rolling in the dough. I was always alright with that, too, until someone bragged about the new doll their mom and dad had bought them.

In sixth grade, my parents decided to move into the thumb (Yes, I do refer to where I live by making my hand into a mitten. It’s a normal thing to do here.) which, if you don’t know anything about Michigan, is in the middle of nowhere. It is pure farming country. Twenty minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart and an hour to any major shopping center. When we moved there, my brother and I were enrolled in public school for the first time. It was such a big change.

Because of how hard I was pushed in my previous school, I was ahead of my classmates. I knew most of what they were learning and found the homework… simple. The teachers didn’t push us very hard and, if I didn’t do any of my homework I just got a bad grade. No disappointed looks, no speeches in front of the entire class, nothing. The best part, though, was the people. Everyone was friendly. They didn’t care about how much money you had, who your parents were, nothing. On my first day, a girl I didn’t know asked me if I wanted to play with her. When someone new came to my old school, it took them a while to make any friends because they were shunned at first. It was a novel experience.

As I moved into High School, this didn’t change. The people continued to be friendly. I don’t know if this is because we were in a public school or if it was just because everyone in the country is like that, but it took steps towards building up my self-confidence. The problem, though, was the education standards. They had shrunk to near nonexistence.

The teachers that actually cared about how students did, and made sure that we learned something, were minimal. I had a teacher whose main teaching methods were crossword puzzles and coloring in maps. Anyone with half a brain could pass that class, especially since, if you asked, he would tell you answers to the homework. Most of my teachers were of similar caliber. The ones who were different, who actually wished to challenge students, were all older, ranging from mid-forties to retirement age. But, they were my favorite. They expected me to do well, to excel, and when I failed at something they were more than happy to help me figure out what I had done wrong. If the rest of the teachers at the school were similar, it would increase the potential of students by monumental degrees. We can complain about the lack of funding to the public school system all we want, but that is not our only concern. We need a way to test the merit of teachers. We need more teachers who actually care about how their students are faring and don’t give up on the problem children. I saw several people in my graduating class who were just given a passing grade and then pushed along to the next teacher, only to have those teachers complain about how little most of my class knew and how we should be so much farther ahead. Every teacher complained about that, but they all went through the same motions nevertheless.

When the time for the ACT came, we were told to be happy to get a 21. Now, out of a ranking of 36, 21 really isn’t that great and most colleges want at least a 25 to get admitted. But our teachers, and our counselor, told us not to expect too much. They gave us classes on how to take the test, but it seemed… half-hearted. Some of the teachers weren’t really sure what to tell us and the others were pushed into teaching something that wasn’t even their field of expertise. That was wrong. We should have been told to fight for a good score and the teachers should have put more effort into showing us what to do.

I’m now in college and I can’t help but feel that this is how education is supposed to be. I go to a private college, so it is smaller and a little different than other colleges, but the size makes it so much better. Because we are so small, we get more one on one time with our professors. Ever professor know the name of every student in their class and, if they were to pass on the sidewalk, would happily strike up a conversation with us, and visa versa. I am always encouraged to come in and chat. It doesn’t even have to be about the class but, if it is, they are more than happy to help me learn. I once had an hour long conversation with one of my english professors about story tales and how vampires are viewed in culture, neither of which was being covered in my class, and it is once of my favorite conversations.

I know that, if I was every having trouble, my professors would support me. They will, and are, putting their all into helping me succeed. They love to teach, they love the pursuit of knowledge, and they love to help their students. This is how all education should be. I shouldn’t have to go to college to finally get this level of aptitude and excitement from an educator. Even if you do teach elementary, middle, or high school, that is no excuse for not putting your all into your students. How you teach determines their future. Don’t let your students be like my graduating class, where anyone who managed a B- average was considered a genius and people who took AP classes was putting in too much effort. Don’t let your students settle for a C because that’s all they need to pass. That’s what happened in my school, and that was unacceptable. If you expect everything from your students, if you show use that you believe in their potential, I promise you that we will respond. It make take a little while for some to believe it, because we’ve gone so long without our educators actually caring, but once we do there will be no stopping us.

Random Scene 2

Two lords, one in his early twenties and the other his late forties, sip wine together while watching the bustle of the elder lord’s castle around them. The sun reflects off of the men at arms chainmail as then walk the walls and a farmer haggles with a disgruntled cook in a nearby doorway.

“That is an interesting scar you have on your cheek. How did you come by it?” The young lord asked, staring intently at his glass as he swirled his wine.

“An unfortunate encounter with some thieves many years ago. They came to kidnap my daughter but we managed to fight them off well enough.” The elder lord replied, reaching up to finger his cheek.

“It is a pity that it scarred you.” The young lord stared down at his feet. “My lord, I do not wish to be too forward but I must ask… why did you call me here today? Although our families are not enemies, the relationship between us has only recently grown to be one of friendship and that was due only to the fact that you fought alongside my father in the recent war. Ever since my father’s death, there has been no contact between us. You did not even show up at the funeral. You can understand that I wonder at your motives.” By the end, he was closely studying the elder lord’s face for a reaction.

“I was wondering how the search for the murderer is going. I apologize for not coming to the funeral; the grief was too fresh and I was not ready to face his death yet. I would like to make up for that now. If you wish any help, consider me your loyal servant.” A grimace of hate flashed across his face as he bowed low. “Whomever had the gall to kill such an honorable man deserves do be punished and it is, of course, an honor to help Godfrey’s heir, especially as your ascension to lordship came under such horrid circumstances.”

“There has actually been some development.” The young lord idly fingered his sword as he studied the elder lord’s face. “A servant was found who saw the murderer fleeing the scene of the crime.”

“Really?” The elder lord exclaimed. “Well, speak up boy! What did the killer look like?”

“Well, it was rather odd, actually.” The young lord related slowly. “According to the servant, he had a scar on his cheek that looked very similar to yours. Almost identical, really. What do you suppose that means, my lord?”

The elder lord’s eyes widened just before the young lord threw his glass of wine into his face and drew his sword. “You will pay for what you have done!” He screamed as he slashed at his enemy.

But the elder lord had drawn his sword and easily parried the attack.

“Stay back!” He roared at the men at arms who were about to rush to their lord’s rescue. “Stay back! I have this under control!” He then turned his full attention to his opponent.

“Your grief misleads you into attacking a friend! I have ever been your father’s loyal comrade. His death grieves me as well!” They exchanged another set of blows and then parted, slowly circling. “I had no part in your father’s death!”

“LIAR!” The young lord bellowed as he threw himself forward. He hacked senselessly at his adversary, all finesse forgotten in his rage. The elder lord quickly used this to his advantage, and, with a quick flick of his sword, disarmed him.

“Think a moment! What gain would I have from killing Godfrey? Use your head; do not be led so easily into making enemies of those who wish to help you!” The elder lord beseeched, holding out his hands in a desperate entreaty for reason.

Immune to his plea, the young lord drew his dagger and threw himself forward, but the elder broke his arm with a quick smash downwards of his sword hilt and then wrapped a leg around the younger lord’s knee, sprawling the him to his back.

The younger flinched, closing his eyes as tears streamed down his face and the elder’s sword cut towards his throat.

But the sword clanged into the flagstones beside his head and he opened his eyes in astonishment. The elder’s tears streamed silently down his face as he said, “I did not kill your father, but, based on the similarity of the scar pattern, I think I know who did.”