I'm taking a short break from the Elements posts I've been putting up on Mondays to address an idea that's been plaguing me since Saturday.
To start at the beginning, let me set forth that I've been in a discussion with someone interested in hiring me to write a story, using pre-established characters. When pressed to write a story that I saw no merit in, I said that wasn't the kind of story I liked to write, not the sort of story I was good at. He pushed me for a reason, and for a direct answer to whether or not I would write the story he wanted. Here is my reply (which took me a couple hours to properly compose, despite its length):
This is a complex subject, and I would like to give it the attention it requires in order to be clear. Understand that this is not a comment on your request, but rather a statement concerning my preferences and the standards I strive to uphold in my art.
I believe that every story written has a message and a lesson. Something the reader can take away from it and carry with them as they go about their day. If the story is impactful enough, that message will stay with them for a very long time. (I've carried much of what I learned from Black Beauty with me most of my life, and I'm working to one day write something as meaningful as that.)
In addition, I believe that every story should have a message that will improve or help the reader in some way, whether that be by encouraging them, or helping them explore a difficult subject in a safe way, or by making them feel good after a hard day. All these are the stories that I love, and so these are the stories that I write.
A story which is written only to make someone angry or punishment a fictional character for a perceived wrong - these things don't uplift or illuminate.
If you would like me to write a story about a character dealing with the internal conflict of trying to do the right thing when he doesn't know what the right thing is, or two characters being madly in love, or the clash of cultures and the negative effects that can have on both sides - those are stories I think are worth writing, and they don't have to be long to get that message in there.
So to address your question directly - am I willing to write a story in which a character of your choice takes vengeance on another for perceived wrongs? Yes. The theme of vengeance is woven through the entire series, exploring the consequences and repercussions of pursuing it to greater and greater extremes. I think that's definitely a story worth telling.
Thank you for taking the time to read all that. I appreciate your patience.
While writing this, I realized that this is the primary weakness in my current novel, titled Lost Star. It's not addressing a specific issue, question, or concept, and so it seems scattered and disorderly. The works that I love best, like Black Beauty, Little Women, and The Lord of the Rings, all focus very closely on a single concept, no matter how broad. Concepts like the treatment (and abuse) of animals, the cost of independent choices within a family unit, and the importance of making choices based on their future effects, rather than the immediate consequences.
Perhaps, the reason none of my novels have come to fruition isn't that I lost interest or that the story isn't a good one, but because the underlying concept isn't tuned prior to writing the darned thing, so I start encountering passages and entire chapters later on in the editing process and ask myself "what is this saying?" and "why is this here?" instead of just enjoying the story as I put it down.
That's not to say I'm going to scrap everything I have and start again from square one, but rather that I feel I need to take a step back from the story and ask "what question does this story answer?" and "what subject does this story explore?" Once I know that, then I can move forward with whatever major revisions need to be made to hone in on that topic.
Now that I've found the flaw, I can keep going with my project (which has been more or less stymied for the last 3 months). I'm looking forward to getting back to work.