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Novels, especially these days, tend to be written primarily for entertainment. However, a truly worthwhile novel should do several other things as well. One of them is to teach. Not like a text book, but novels can be an excellent vehicle for conveying many of life’s lessons and philosophies with subtle and sometimes profound events. They teach primarily through example, and the best authors, like the best teachers have you learning things when you think you’re doing something else.
An adventure shouldn’t be just a collection of exciting events that allow our hero to shine. An adventure or an experience or the solving of a problem should happen for a purpose. The hero should emerge from the adventure, experience or situation different than the way he went into it. A metamorphosis should take place.
Consider a military novel. An executive officer on a wartime submarine thinks that his captain is a coward because of something he did that seemed cowardly and ruthless at the time. During the next cruise the captain is killed and the exec takes over and then he, the exec has to something pretty much like the captain did. Something that seemed cowardly and ruthless. The proverbial light goes off in the exec’s mind; he now “gets” it. He has grown as a person and has come to realize that the captain was in fact right. By the end of the mission the exec has learned a lesson, some valuable insight about himself or about life. He now realizes the responsibility of command and that responsibility might not always make you popular. But it is the right thing to do.
Such metamorphosis can be played out in all novels, regardless of genre. The hero emerges differently than how he went into the situation. The change in him is usually for the better, and when done right it will always leave a lasting impression on the reader.