Sometimes I don’t fully understand what my novels are about, deep down, whilst writing them.
Obviously I know about the story and characters, but because I don’t want to come off as preachy, I do not consciously include any “message” in my stories whilst they are being written. I often don’t understand what kind of point I am making, deep down, until after the fact.
Some might claim this makes me a bad writer, but if so I am clearly in good company. JRR Tolkien had this to say about why he wrote The Lord of the Rings: “As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold he attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them. As a guide I had only my own feelings for what is appealing or moving.”
Later, Tolkien acknowledged that the novel did in fact have a number of things to say, regarding friendship, growing up, the treatment of the environment, the nature of war, and his own Christian faith, amongst others. Indeed, there are a great deal of “messages” and “ideas” in The Lord of the Rings. However, these were messages and ideas that were not consciously intended.
That summarises how I approach my own writing.
For example, in the case of the George Hughes trilogy, I wrote those purely because I wanted to write an exciting science fiction adventure story that children (and intelligent adults) would enjoy. The first in the series, George goes to Mars, simply launched the whole “boy inherits Mars” premise, and at the time was intended as a one-off novel.
However, subsequently readers expressed interesting ideas about what George goes to Mars was actually about, under the surface. Apparently the novel can be read as an allegory about the dangers of religious fundamentalism, and also contains strong feminist undertones. It is also, some have claimed, a parable about the need for responsible leadership. Here I must confess I did intend for George to have a character arc whereby leadership is thrust upon him, but merely as a character arc to provide a satisfying plot, not to make any great statement about the evils of corrupt leadership.
The immediate sequel, George goes to Titan, I have been told is about everything from bullying to civil rights and slavery, as well as metaphysical stuff like faith.
The final novel, George goes to Neptune, I have been told is about heavy stuff like post-traumatic stress, overcoming fear, coming to terms with grief and growing up.
Again, I didn’t deliberately intend any particular message in these books, but in retrospect I have to concede that all of these readings are valid, and that in some cases, given what I was going through in my personal life when I wrote them, these interpretations make sense.