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Messages, Themes, and Preaching

            I couldn’t have agreed more with Ann on her coldfirewriter blog when she went on a rant about why YA writers better not preach in YA novels because teenagers hate being told what to do.

            I agree with that so wholeheartedly I decided to do a post on it, but not just on why YA novels shouldn’t be preachy, but why novels shouldn’t be preachy anyway.

            I’m twenty years old now, nearly twenty-one. So I’m kind of well out the YA stage. Regardless, I still do read some YA. I also write it. But I also find myself reading things with older MC’s, MC’s who are really getting ready to face life. Now here’s the thing. Unless I pick up a novel with the intention of learning something new or wanting to learn someone else’s point of view, I don’t want to feel like I’m being told what to do and having views imposed on me. Save that for the dieting books, and the how to books.

            Why? Because people hate being told what to do and how to do, adults too. That’s why when writing religious novels, and people may hate me for saying it, the writer really has to be careful about how the message comes across, that it’s not preachy about the matter. Now that doesn’t mean that your novel can’t have a theme or underlying message. But that shouldn’t take precedence over the story you’re trying to tell and when it does, then there’s a problem.

            A novel’s primary purpose if for entertainment, to tell a good story, which means there has to be a conflict that needs to be resolved and everything that has in that novel has to propel the story to that end. In other words, if getting your message or theme across is interfering with the story, there’s a problem and you risk angering the reader because you’re focusing more on preaching to the reader than you are on telling us the dog on story.

            Those books make me throw them across the room. I’ve read them. The underlying message of a story I read recently was this; love conquers all. But damn it when that message started interfering in what was happening in the story and the pacing, I stopped reading it. I skipped to the end to see if the conflict was resolved (and it really was a cop out because the writer had to forget what the conflict was) and put it away. It had a really good thing going at first. But after the first twenty times something threatened to break the couple apart and “love conquered,” I got the point.

            Now that doesn’t mean that I’m a cynic about certain things, or that I’m not open minded to ideas, but things like that are best when they naturally flow with the story, not when they sound like the sole purpose of a scene or chapter is to preach. That’s an info-dump.

            My point? Write the story and if you can weave the message in without making it sound preachy, good for you. If not don’t force it. Your readers will like you better and appreciate your story better. Besides, it’s the stuff your readers notice that you didn’t mean to be symbolic that make the writer smile, not because they got the message you were trying to teach.

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Ann Elise said...

Thanks for the linkage. I really don't have anything else to add. You summed it up perfectly.

Ann Elise said...

Oh, and by the way, I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award here: http://coldfirewriter.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/the-versatile-blogger-award/

I'm hoping you haven't received it already.