Mystery and Meaning in Stories

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

According to Flannery O’Connor in her Mystery & Manners, meaning is “embodied” within the story, while a theme is an abstract idea, an element that’s recognizable enough to extract from the story. Meaning conveys some “mystery of existence” and can be associated with the elements that matter most to the characters. The writer must convey what matters most to himself or to his readers, not just elaborate on some abstract idea.

When I am asked what the plot is for my story, I understand that one sentence is insufficient for describing my story; I must tell it all. If my theme were easily recognizable, then the plot would be predictable. Likewise, in relation to O’Connor’s explanation, an excellent moral or plot cannot be simply stated without telling the whole story. Ultimately, the mystery of the plot must be intricate enough to grab and maintain the reader’s interest.

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2 thoughts on “Mystery and Meaning in Stories

  1. This is so true. It’s always difficult to answer the question: “What’s your story about?”, especially when you’re in the middle of it. I love writing that goes deep and is rich with meaning, but it needs to happen because you’ve really plumbed the depths. It’s wonderful when you find in your own writing that you’re touching on something deeper. It’s exciting!

  2. Yes, Gail! I get this thrill whenever I hit the deeper meaning! Once, one of my stories had impacted my readers when they felt the emotions of my protagonist, and it was a joy to feel my writing so well appreciated and so wonderfully conveyed.

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