Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Vacuum Eater, Apr 15, 2011.
Can you give an example of where you think you are sounding preachy? Or at least what idea you want to convey? Otherwise, this question is rather abstract, and it will be difficult to help you.
The question was purely academic. I've seen people complain when they feel an author is being preachy or trying to force an agenda on the audience, and so I began wondering what those authors could have done to be less blatant without abandoning their agendas.
Steinbeck often lobbied for the disenfranchised in his themes with never being preachy
1) Assuming that we're talking about fiction, don't communicate the message in the narrator's voice at all.
2) Be wary of communicating the message directly in a character's voice, as opposed to communicating it with the character's actions or by reading between the lines of what the character says.
3) Don't twist the story to serve the message. If the story can't stand on its own just as a good yarn, it's going to be a poor vehicle for carrying a message.
4) Similar, but not quite identical, don't twist the characters to serve the message. The character who has the Wrong Views doesn't also need to be mean, ugly, unlikable, and miserable. The one with the Right Views doesn't need to be handsome, likable, and accomplished. Don't act like you're God, doling out just punishments and rewards to your characters.
Edited to add: OK, that's just all about how to avoid being preachy. How do you communicate in spite of all that? I don't know. I envision it as uncovering a story that happens to illustrate your point, rather than drawing a blueprint of one designed to do so. But how you get that story to build itself in your mind, ready to be uncovered, I don't know.
Well... I basically just posted a reply to this question in the other thread, but I suppose I can try a more focused reply here.
There is no general easy solution to the problem, or a general answer to this question. It depends on what the agenda is, exactly, what audience you are targeting. There are agendas that are quite harmless, and that will do little harm in a book (such as "why don't we all try to be a little nicer to each other?") and there are other agendas which are difficult to keep from being nauseating.
As an example text, of how you should not write a novel if you don't want to sound preachy, here is a current news item from the official (North) Korean Central News Agency:
It is generally a text passage like the above, no matter what agenda lies behind it, that will make me put a book down! Unless, of course, it is written for comic effect.
I don't know what you're trying to do.
But why not do it as a debate, showing two differing opinions on the subject. You will thereby get your point across along with an alternative view point. The risk you take there is that, your reader might side with the alternative view point. But at least you would have hammered away at your views and possibly gotten it of your chest.
I like this. You can even leave the debate open-ended.
Simple just show and tell the story without ever mentioning it in a way that prevents the story moving forward.
The problem is way more interesting, in itself, than whatever viewpoint some faceless fiction writer might have on it. Unless you're some kind of Messiah, readers won't care what you think -- they'll be much more thankful if your work highlighted an issue they can proceed to debate, themselves. That's one reason why great literature is open to interpretation, while propaganda pamphlets are used for igniting fireplaces.
Think about Tiny Tim - very little preaching but the country reformed children, health began to improve etc Oliver Twist. Even the boarding school Jane Eyre went to.
In a Britain which now has NHS, and albeit currently evolving and struggling welfare states the issues raised in those stories are now difficult to comprehend has issues raised but to people of the time they were highlighting important issues.
My favorite example of communicating a message effectively is "To Kill A Mockingbird". The only time Harper Lee directly confronts her issue of racial prejudice is when Atticus is arguing Tom Robinson's case in court. The issue is always secondary to the characters, and, in what I think is the most powerful scene in the entire book, it isn't even mentioned.
The scene, in case you're interested, is the one in which Atticus is sitting outside the jail because he has heard that there may be a lynch mob coming for Tom. Gem is worried about him and goes down to see if he is all right, and Scout goes with him. They get there just as the mob is pressing Atticus to let them at Tom, and in the middle of it, Scout sees the father of one of her schoolmates and begins talking to him quite innocently. He is shamed, as is the rest of the mob, and they disperse quietly.
If you're preaching to the converted, your preaching will likely be much better tolerated. Choose your audience carefully. You would have to be an awful author to vex a reader who happily swallows your world-view.... utterly without sensibility. (Ed has mentioned Ayn Rand elsewhere and perhaps she falls into this category?).
Arguably, Dickens is very preachy. We don't think so simply because he preaches with such verve and beauty we miss it or don't much care. I think this is true for many great authors.
So, the second bit of advice is to be a genius.
He's not bad for his time period. Plus I think it is down to the character think more people remember the little boy's crutch in the corner without an occupant or the little boydesperate for more food, more than they remember any preaching. He may have preached but his story conveyed the point more powefully than any of the bits in between.
He was certainly no Victor Hugo
Here's an example of how you avoid being preachy . . . .
Let's say it was a couple hundred years ago and you wanted to write a book that conveyed the message that slavery was bad.
1.) Use the plot line to convey the message instead of narration or character's voice. Basically, write about what its like to be a slave and how it always leads to corruption and abuse for any human being to treat another one as if they were a possession.
2.) Make sure the people who are reading your book can't sympathize with the characters inflicting the pain. Instead of writing about a plantation farmer, maybe write a fantasy about elves taking normal humans as slaves so we are automatically inclined to take the side of the humans and therefore have more trouble sympathizing with the villains in the story.
Regardless, writing something that controversial back then would have offended a bunch of people, but if you wrote it that way, some of them might have listened.
The beauty of a story is you can make people FEEL something is wrong through the plotline. When you lecture someone about something they are doing wrong, you lose them and make them think of you as an enemy, but if you can draw them in, make them sympathize with your characters, and actually feel your character's pain as if it was their own through the events, rather than having the character lecture everyone or you lecture everyone, then you can change their mind.
That's why people often taught through parables in the past. Giving examples and things to sympathize with makes a message easier to relate to.
3. I read a book that did all these things and was trying to give the message that religion corrupts people, but it was about how judgmental and evil Christians were and the Christian in the book was an absolute psychopath. I've known Christians and they aren't constantly going out and trying to make everyone's life miserable all the time. Yes, sometimes they say the most awful and judgmental things to other people, but they aren't constantly spouting hate. In fact, a lot of them believe they are doing it out of love.
SO if you are going to write something like that, like about how religion corrupts people, then write about a Christian who actually reflects the personality of a real Christian. Not some scary stereotype your biases came out of. Look intelligent by actually having a grasp on who you are preaching these things against and how they really think and why they do what they do and why its still wrong. Otherwise you alienate the audience you are trying to speak to completely.
I don't feel Dickens preached as such - he high-lighted the social injustices of the time, through story, plot and character.
So, the consensus is: treat both sides with impartiality even if you don't favor the other side. That sounds reasonable, even if there is the chance that the reader may sympathize with the "wrong side," as Trilby already noted.
Now, I wonder how the novels that present a very black-and-white worldview (like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) would have fared had the authors been more impartial with the protagonists and antagonists . . .
Is that the consensus?..anyhow...you clearly recognise that that might be pretty terrible advice. Which it is.
Do as your heart and intellect dictates. You can be very preachy but what you musn't be is boring.
i find first person narratives are usually the most 'preachy'
and also being preachy is telling somebody how something should be, an alternative would be to force the reader to think about what is right, in context to what you wrote.
A example would be in New Orleans 80 % of the "police dollars" goes to patrol 20 % of the city(the tourist destinations) to make a subtle point, I would write in a scene showing how hard it was to find a cop when you need one outside of downtown/french quarter ..dig ?
Agree. Nothing wrong with preachy, it's like a debate You just have to make your reader believe in your character.
I never said "impartiality", I said to represent them how they are and not how people who judge them stereotype them as being.
For instance (this is an issue that I don't have an opinion on, so don't argue with me about the actual issue, I just like to give examples when I explain things) . . . .
Let's say you were trying to convince people that abortion is wrong. By representing people who agree with abortions as individuals who are just selfish and out to murder people for a woman's gain (which a lot of anti-abortionists try to represent them as), you're creating a stereotype that sounds preachy and inaccurate and someone who believes in abortions is going to recognize that right away. "I believe in abortions and I'm not like that at all. In fact, I often volunteer to help the common man and I'm trying to help women who are in a tough situation to be given a safe solution to their problem by caring for them." You show you are uneducated when you project people you are disagreeing with in hateful stereotypes.
While on the other hand, if you were to write a story from the baby's perspective and how he was safe and warm and then his mother didn't want him and how painful it was when he died or from the mother's perspective, how getting an abortion made her feel guilty and didn't help her at all, then it would affect more people (if it was believable), then just trying to spread hate towards a certain group of people.
Part of convincing people through writing that your opinion is right is not completely alienating the people who you believe hold the wrong opinion on the issue because they are the people who need to read what you wrote the most. Its about getting those people to sympathize with the other side, instead of bashing them for having their opinions.
I think this type of allegory can be too heavy-handed for some modern readers. It's not exactly preaching, but if the reader sees through what you're doing, they can get annoyed that you're painting the world in such simplistic terms.
Avatar is a great example of this. It had a huge budget, great visuals, and a simple and popular message (colonialism is bad, natives are noble, and corporations are greedy), and it did great at the box office, but the message was beaten into your head with such lack of subtlety that it annoyed some people.
To satisfy the more picky readers, I think you need to add some ambiguity. Admit that everything is not that simple. Show that people on the "right" side are sometimes bad too, or that people choose the "right" side for bad reasons. Show that people on the "wrong" side often honestly believe they are doing the right thing. And so on.
That's why I added the third point as well. =) That I elaborated in the post above this one. Because representing the bad side as totally evil will alienate them as well.
You can still say one side is more right than the other, but you can't do that.
I'd disagree with this one. If the Bad Guys are too distant from the people you're trying to speak to, then those people are likely to say, "Well, sure, that's bad, but this is _different_. We're nice to our slaves, and our slaves wouldn't know what to do without us, and..." You may need to point out the evil in the normal, even likable, human characters.
(Ah. I see you addressed this later. )
Separate names with a comma.