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 Post subject: In Which I Discover That My Writing Is Too Preachy
PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 5:37 am 
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It has long been debated, on Holy Worlds and beyond, whether one ought to point explicitly to God through one's writing. Personally, because of how my life has progressed and how I view my writing, I have trouble keeping a direct connection to God out of my writing. I never defined it as preachy because I never saw myself as the kind of author who would have heroes who gain magical powers to fight off demons of selfishness or specifically mention that every character who had a swearing habit and did not repent would surely suffer in the afterlife.

A few months ago I assigned my students a story analysis worksheet in which they would identify the theme of a story through various stages of conflict, the repeating phrases, what characters win and lose, and how the hero finds redemption. Grading those worksheets blew all of my delusions of subtly as well and thoroughly out of the water as the whale did Jonah in the Veggie Tales movie.

The examples that had me facepalming over myself were The Lion King and Finding Nemo. The Lion King communicates the dangers of irresponsibility through painted scenery and two arguments about a lack of food. Neither of them ever say that Scar is failing because he is irresponsible or too demanding. They simply say that he is not like Mufasa. When Simba learns the balance of forgiveness, self-worth, and responsibility with the help of some clouds and a mandrill who never states anything plainly, he returns home to protect his people and is immediately mistaken for Mufasa. The family resemblance is the primary reason, but the thematic reason is that he is emulating the same traits that made his father a great king.

Finding Nemo had moments where it was more obvious. "Just keep swimming" is a metaphor to those of us who are not fish, but it is rather easy to tell what it means. Still, we only learn not to judge a book by its cover when we meet sharks, an angler fish, a trench, and Squishy. The more carefree fish is one of few who can read, and not all clown fish are funny (but they should let loose a little). "Just keep swimming" becomes more than a cheerful little ditty when it is adopted by a school of fish caught in a net rather than forgetful Dory. The seagulls scream "Mine!" and have nothing to show for it, while sea turtles lives to be more than one hundred and fifty because they go with the flow.

I think nowadays, with so many people expecting a theme, we are more afraid of subtlety than we used to be. Look at how constantly Disney needed to mention that "you can't marry a man you just met" with Frozen and have the themes explained and stated by the characters. Not that Frozen wasn't good int its own right, but it did lose some of the charm of previous films because it stated everything so plainly. Think of how much people enjoy books such as Harry Potter because they can read through it again and again to find a new theme or a hidden wink to the dominant one.

We all work in words. For me, that often makes me tempted to state myself plainly in dialogue because my themes excite me. The first draft of my novel if fraught with pitfalls of moral ideals rather than images of contrasting environments. Sometimes my subtlety goes over my readers' heads, but the thing is not to let that stop me from weaving a tapestry rather than painting a billboard. A writer can still say as much through a landscape as a painter, and words are ours to master in desolate scrub lands, and in eager seagulls.

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 Post subject: Re: In Which I Discover That My Writing Is Too Preachy
PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 5:46 am 
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I'm not nearly as eloquent as you are about this, Rinja, but I agree on subtlety in writing. It makes it so much more fun to read. :3

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 Post subject: Re: In Which I Discover That My Writing Is Too Preachy
PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 5:56 am 
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C.S. Lewis is somewhat apt to being preachy in the Chronicles of Narnia. Where he gets away with it, I think, is in using the stories as allegory and having such subtlety as "there you will know me by another name" and "traitors can reform; I know one that did" and also having such moralizing as "it is a very foolish thing to shut oneself in a wardrobe" spoken by himself as the narrator so that he rather has a grandfatherly voice of narration and you want to forgive him if he teaches you a lesson or two while he weaves tales of boys turning to dragons.

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You can't spell grin without ̶gRIN
Words are my ̶bread and ̶butter.
http://unshakablegirl.com/
http://www.ravelry.com/designers/kitra-skene

Haud Retene Haud Reverte

All resemblance to persons, people, friends, relatives, quotes, cultures, artificial intelligences, inside jokes, pets, unclaimed personalities, sentient objects, extra-terrestrials, inter-terrestrials, and draperies living, dead, undead, or comatose in any of my work are purely coincidental, incidental, circumstantial, inadvertent, unplanned, unforeseen, and unintentional. There's seriously no way I was referring to you. Honest.

The story so far:
Birthright: Eleventh chapter pending. 28280 words.
Heritage: First chapter drafted.
Legacy: Character and plot development stage.
Get a feel for the land. Visit Lor-Amar today!

Other novels on the brain:
Quicksilver
Shen'oh Story
Crusoe's Star
War Blazer
Seven Arts Story
The Queen's Knave
Polarians
Exile Realms
All Librarians Are Secret Agents


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 Post subject: Re: In Which I Discover That My Writing Is Too Preachy
PostPosted: Mon Mar 02, 2015 3:42 am 
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I'm struggling with subtlety right now in the story I'm writing. It's tricky because the main goal of the characters is, basically, to discover the theme: they have a lot of questions and my central idea in the story is what answers their questions. Hopefully the final story will come off as "characters discovering something" and not "characters asking questions so the author can stick a big speech into one of their mouths".

I also know all too well what you mean when you say that you're tempted to state your themes plainly because they excite you. :) I'm often more interested in stating my ideas clearly and eloquently than figuring out clever ways to subtly slip them in.

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 Post subject: Re: In Which I Discover That My Writing Is Too Preachy
PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 3:10 am 
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I believe it's like vocabulary, we pick up new words and we start to introduce them into our conversations. We may have only heard these words at some party or while listening to the radio on that one occasion but they stick with us more than the ones we use daily.

A subtle message / theme seems to be 99% better than the big bold letters. Most people are annoyed by preachy writing, it's just not what they came to read. They want to get pulled into the world of hobbits, elves, and Gondor!

I don't know if that makes sense to the non-Iarrthoir brain at all but there's my two cents. :D

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 Post subject: Re: In Which I Discover That My Writing Is Too Preachy
PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2016 6:08 pm 
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I struggle with subtlety as well, though I do want to have a message as well. In my fantasy world, spiritual laws are built-in and as apparent as physical laws like gravity. I hope that this resulted in my message being communicated naturally, because my characters have to explain and use spiritual truths to share "the rules of the game" to other characters, and to defeat their enemies. I don't think C.S.Lewis is preachy, however. Many non-Christians who read it don't even realize it's Christian at all.

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 Post subject: Re: In Which I Discover That My Writing Is Too Preachy
PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 11:46 pm 
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Interestingly enough, different people can appreciate either. Some people like a clear message, and others are fine with no obvious one (I mean, as long as it is overall a good story, right?). Personally, I sometimes enjoy finding hidden meanings. Like... This character showed kindness to someone because of how they reminded him of his formerly unkind self.

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 Post subject: Re: In Which I Discover That My Writing Is Too Preachy
PostPosted: Sun Apr 09, 2017 5:13 am 
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The interesting thing about theme is that it is an inherent part of a story, most clearly displayed by the actions of the characters and the consequences to those actions. Lord of the Rings is one of the great examples to this. The themes are found through analysis and will vary in mileage according to the reader's own history and personality, which I think is one of the marks of great literature.

There are times, when these are more clearly expressed through dialogue, but these are small, subtle, and organic moments that are a reaction to consequences around them. Faramir's speech about how he did not appreciate weapons and war for their own sake, but for what they protected, and how the dead man fighting for Mordor was no different than himself. Sam's speech and realization about the stars and the nature of the darkness, while not dialogue, are another examples.

That's the interesting thing about subtlety. It doesn't have to be that subtlety. We all have inherent, implicit understandings of how the world is supposed to work, and often does. If our writing reflects that, the messages will grow organically as well.

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