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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Preachiness

   
Author Topic: Preachiness
rcmann
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Is it just me, or is there more preaching going on in stories now? I mean, open preaching. Stories have always reflected the personal viewpoint of the author, naturally. Also naturally, it's tempting to slip a theme into a story that reflects our own worldview. I mean political preaching, not religious. Although there is some of that too.

But I am talking about recent stories I have read that seem to approach the level of social propaganda. I won't mention the agenda that I perceive them to be advocating, that's not the point. I wonder if I am getting more sensitive to this, or if the broader variety of publications might give room for more writers to climb on a soap box.

Maybe I'm just old and feeling poked a lot.

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babooher
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rcmann, the weather has turned chill but my gas works so I don't need a flame war. I doubt you're just old and feeling poked a lot.

That's all I'm saying.

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Grumpy old guy
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rcmann, writers have ever had ther own agendas they've been pushing. Btw, please excuse claret induced typo's. ERB (Edgar Rice-Bubbles) was renowned for pushing his own barrow, as was Conan-Doyle, in their day. Robert Heinlein had his own agenda that he propounded. As did E.E. 'Doc' Smith if you want to go back that far. And let's not mention L 'Ron' Hubbard's opus Battlefield Earth. There are even some recent stories that posit climate change is all our fault, go figure. So, I'd suggets you stop worrying about the bomb, and start loving it.

Phil

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redux
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Perhaps the preaching is lacking finesse.
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Robert Nowall
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I always thought the preachiness went up in direct proportion to the success the writer's had. Heinlein started with a certain level, that grew as time went by, until by the time of his last books they were about two-thirds preachiness, one-third story. Asimov was relatively clean, but by the end he was preaching in his stories, too.

I've tried to preach in my own stuff, but it never seems to work out. So I've tried to put a thought here and a thought there, and, till success strikes me, I'll have to leave it at that.

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Owasm
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You can't help but let your own POV slip into your writing, but it can get out of hand. I wrote a novel and then when I rewrote it, I ended up taking out paragraph after paragraph of my POV.

I think if you get famous, it just gets noticed more, but it's easy enough to detect and disregard if the story is good. If it's not, then perhaps you can just put the book in the trash and move on.

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extrinsic
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rcmann, maybe you're accessing meaning more deeply; maybe you've hit a spate of poorly disguised persuasion; maybe you're more attuned to the characteristics of voice's attitude feature. I think the latter is likely. Studying and practicing persuasive writing can't help but improve a person's critical thinking faculties. Rhetoric is persuasion. Danger, Will Robinson, there's no turning back.

Propoganda preaches to the choir, who are more forgiving of persuasion shortcomings than unconverted, unreformed, unrepentant free thinkers.

E.M. Forester's Aspects of the Novel. 1923, preaches against preaching writing, favoring instead persuasive visionary and mystical writing. The differences are subtle and profound.

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Osiris
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Anyone read "The Lost Girl" in the current issue of Clarkesworld? Their was a bit of non-sequitur preaching in that story that came out of left field precisely during the climax. I found it distracting to the point that it is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the story.
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MattLeo
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I think what you're seeing is not the rise of preaching, but the fall of editorial standards. The base of the literary market has broadened, giving us access to more lazy writing than we could have dreamed existed thirty years ago.

Suppose author A writes a book with themes of social critique. If everything in that book holds together credibly, the reader experiences that book as a work of genius. If author B takes the same thesis but makes the story "work" through cardboard characters doing inexplicable things and suspicious coincidence, the reader might *identify* the problem as the B being "preachy", but the real problem is that the author has cheated the reader out of an honest day's work.

Of course sometimes readers will call "propaganda!" if they see something that pushes their hot buttons. I've done research on neo-nazi websites, and anti-semites see any sympathetic portrayals of Jews as propaganda. In the end you can't avoid some readers somewhere calling "propaganda!" on you, but you *can* put in an honest day's work. Write honestly, for reasonable and intelligent people.

As a reader, you have no valid complaint if the author happens to think differently from you. You do if he's made his point by being lazy. So if you're a socialist, you can't complain that he has a capitalist captain of industry as the hero. You can complain if the author misrepresents what socialists believe, or misrepresents why socialist believe those things.

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lizluka
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I wonder about the definition of preachiness. For me, when the author is using literature primarily as a medium of convincing you of his/her worldview, that's definitely preachy. On the other hand, one of the many great things about story telling is that it affords us the opportunity to glimpse other ways of thinking, doing, and looking at the world, beyond our own. We don't have to agree with them. But they certainly have an important place in story telling, as long as they come from the actual story rather than a thinly disguised aside from the author.
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rcmann
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Apparently everyone gets exactly what I mean. I think a book or story *should* have some kind of message in it. It should say something about the author. Otherwise it feels like they didn't care enough to put any of themselves into the work.

What bugs me is being lectured at. Either that, or having the author blatantly using the story as a prop for the message, rather than vice versa. The story, to me, is the thing. Any message should be embedded as an integral part of the narrative, and be implicit.

Too often of late, I get the gut feeling I am back in school listening to an instructor. Or hearing some street preacher expound on a home made parable. Neither of these appeal to me.

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Denevius
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You know, rcmann, there seems to be a pattern to your thought process when it comes to hidden agendas in fiction. I actually don't get why you're so sensitive to some of the topics you've brought up. Just do your thing and let the rest of the world do theirs.
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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Is it just me, or is there more preaching going on in stories now? I mean, open preaching. Stories have always reflected the personal viewpoint of the author, naturally. Also naturally, it's tempting to slip a theme into a story that reflects our own worldview. I mean political preaching, not religious. Although there is some of that too.

But I am talking about recent stories I have read that seem to approach the level of social propaganda. I won't mention the agenda that I perceive them to be advocating, that's not the point. I wonder if I am getting more sensitive to this, or if the broader variety of publications might give room for more writers to climb on a soap box.

Maybe I'm just old and feeling poked a lot.

I've noticed some.

Someone mentioned a story with preaching that came out of the blue at the end.
I read a book like that. First one in a series, great writer, very well done world but out of the blue came a comment at the end. Actually it was in what might be called the epilogue even though that wasn't stated but the bad guys had beaten, the day was saved, etc. One last loose end concerning two major characters had to be fixed. Then out of the blue, as I said, a statement came. I didn't see how it fit the MC so I considered a message from the writer. One I didn't like. That and how the loose end was tied up made me decide not to read anymore in that series.

Here all I will say is that much of the new preaching seems to deal with social issues and in some cases being Political Correct. As someone suggested some deals with science but I've found that more deals with social issues.


redux:
quote:
Perhaps the preaching is lacking finesse.
I think he has a point. As others have pointed out it has always been there. I think the original "Frankenstein" had some. But now it's either more out in the open or it lacks the finesse of the Masters.
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rcmann
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
You know, rcmann, there seems to be a pattern to your thought process when it comes to hidden agendas in fiction. I actually don't get why you're so sensitive to some of the topics you've brought up. Just do your thing and let the rest of the world do theirs.

If the agenda was hidden, I would have no reason for complaint. It's precisely because the agenda is blatant and jumps up in your face that I started the thread.

Although I suppose you are correct. There no doubt is a pattern to my thought processes. Most people have a pattern to their thought processes.

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Osiris
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Overt messages rob the reader of the rewarding feeling of "greeting" it, and signal a lack of trust on the part of the author. In my own experience, my first publication didn't find a home until I'd revised the preaching out of it. This was the single most criticized thing among the workshop groups I shared it with. That suggests to me that most readers don't like this sort of thing.
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Robert Nowall
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It's been said that "If you gotta message, use Western Union." But they only handle wiring money these latter days, so I don't know if it applies.

On "hidden" agenda preaching versus something overt: I mentioned Asimov and Heinlein above. I would say---for the purposes of this discussion, and not to "talk politics"---that I'm closer to Heinlein's position (at least that towards the end of his life) than I ever was to Asimov's position. But I was probably more infuriated by Heinlein's preaching than Asimov's...

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enigmaticuser
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There's room enough for more than one problem. I think pretty much everyone has agreed that the author should be "present" in the story otherwise they would have Watson or Deep Blue writing novels by now . . . maybe they do? The author's presence is what makes it art.

So they should be there, but art also means works and a lazy writer should not be rewarded.

On the other hand, what is the problem with being offended? What is the problem with feeling preached too? I mean heck, if you don't feel preached too, your radar isn't working. Hunger Games is very popular, but can we miss the part about the danger of unlimited government? Or the danger of human nature? Or the danger of bitterness? Every message is inherently preaching, its only a matter of detecting it. Why does it have to be good or bad to detect it? Is the goal to be unconsciously persuaded?

I suppose amusement meant does mean a(anti)muse(thinking).

Just saying its ok to be offended and to offend.

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Osiris
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quote:
On the other hand, what is the problem with being offended? What is the problem with feeling preached too? I mean heck, if you don't feel preached too, your radar isn't working.
For me the offense doesn't come from the message, I like to think I'm open-minded enough to give consideration to viewpoints I don't agree with.

But if I pick up a story, expecting story-telling, and what I get is a cardboard cutout of an antagonist(revealed only at the climax) who the author basically describes as the representative of all the world's ills, then I end up feeling like a mouse lured into a trap by some tasty peanut-butter. That is exactly how I felt after reading "The Lost Girl." The fact that I agree with the viewpoints in the story doesn't matter,
I ended up annoyed because the authors a) didn't take the effort to weave these ideas organically into the story (thought they do to an extent), and b) didn't trust the reader.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Osiris:
didn't trust the reader.

Yes, this. Do not hold my hand, talk down to me, or treat me like a child. Give a care; don't take a care. Package a narrative so that the message is clear yet entertaining. I'm not stupid. I don't need to be told what to think, how to feel, who to trust, when to bother, why it matters, where to seek personal growth. For motherloving cripes' sake, let me think for myself.
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enigmaticuser
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Orisis- So is the problem preaching or just dishonest preaching? It is not the message, but the deception or unfairness that is apparent. "You're not giving this a fair shake."

Extrinsic- I agree.

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Osiris
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quote:
Originally posted by enigmaticuser:
Orisis- So is the problem preaching or just dishonest preaching? It is not the message, but the deception or unfairness that is apparent. "You're not giving this a fair shake."

I think both are problems, but the dishonest preaching, such as the example I mentioned above, is the worse of the two. If you want to preach, go write an opinion piece for a newspaper. At least that way you are honest about what you are presenting the reader.

In "Fermi and Frost" (probably in my top 5 list of favorite short stories), Frederik Pohl doesn't say 'hey, nuclear winter sucks'. He shows a world that has descended into nuclear winter and leaves it up to the reader to say 'wow, that sucks'. Not suprisingly, it is a Hugo Award winner.

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Robert Nowall
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I thought the message of "Fermi and Frost" was that, no matter what, people bounce back from disasters...
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rcmann
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That's the thing. A story written with finesse can be about more than one thing.

Morality plays are boring to me. Fables were interesting, in early grade school. Even then, the moral of the story was obvious in context. It wasn't necessary to state it at the end of the story.

Nowadays I think the average adult has done enough thinking on their own to get the idea without having it rammed down their throat.

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MattLeo
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I'd like to not that as a writer you aren't a prisoner of your opinions. You can write things that seem to undermine your opinions, and sometimes you ought to.

I set a story in the 1930s, then realized that the ending could be construed (particularly by a militant feminist) as supporting the era's view of a woman's subservient role in a relationship with a man. That wasn't my point at all; I was writing about the vulnerability that comes with intimacy. However having noticed this alternative interpretation I decided to play it up, because it sharpened the heroine's trust dilemma.

If gender equality or traditional marriage were your hot button, you could easily walk away thinking the story supports traditional gender roles as the "right" way to do marriage, a view I don't happen to espouse. You might even think I was "preaching". However, if you get the intended theme -- the necessity of vulnerability to intimacy -- you'd come away a different, more nuanced view of the subservience theme in the story.

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rcmann
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Hot button might be the key term. I'm of the opinion that the world would be more pleasant for all concerned if folks would cool off and calm down a little. Live and let live.

I think it was a letter by Tom Paine that I read once, where he was trying to explain to a European friend about this crazy idea of democracy and freedom and so forth. He said that if you want freedom for yourself, you have to be willing to extend it to everyone else, even your bitter enemy. And he pointed out that it also includes freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. Even if you vehemently disagree with them. Otherwise the whole deal won't work.

I suppose the part of the more blatantly preachy stories I read that really bothers me most, is that it seems to mirror what I see in society at large lately. The whole polarization of public debate, the sensationalism of violent disagreement, the way the media plays up every little dispute and digs frantically for any scrap they can find to assign some kind of 'deeper meaning' to tragedy great and small. The straightforward explanation that there may not be a 'deeper meaning', that maybe bad things happen because some people are born a--holes, never seems to get mentioned. Neither does 'I disagree with everything this man says, but I will defend to my death his right to say it.'"

It worries me. It's depressing, actually.

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extrinsic
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Existence is a pushmi-pullya of internal and external forces; without them humanity would stagnate. Not only are Polyanna's live and let live and Cassandra's the sky is falling at odds with each other but also with a third space of coping with those two heads stuck persistently in sand. Celebrate multicultural diversity and may you live in not so interesting times.

Laugh at the innanity of controversy and confrontation and contention. Recognize them for what they are: the acts of frightened, single-minded, desperate, confused people to satisfy their needs for social acceptance and approval and live a fairytale life of ease in a blue sky halcyon haze.

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Natej11
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Terry Goodkind got awfully preachy by the time his last few books in the "Seeker" series came around.

He also seemed to compulsively repeat everything three times, so you'd read paragraph after paragraph that started with a summary of what he was saying, then fleshed it out in detail, then summarized it again. And then sometimes the other characters would repeat the message in their own dialogue.

He could have cut the length of his later books in half and lost nothing from the story. Aside from irritated readers.

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philocinemas
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Persuasivie commentary is everywhere. It's not just the instrument of politicians and clergy. It is in cinema, music, art, journalism, and yes, even literature - every form of media has it. And it has been there for a long time.

The earliest writings, from the Egyptian hyergliphs and Hebrew Bible to Greek Myths and subsequent fables all had "morals". Social Commentary, questioning the status quo, has permeated every generation - Chaucer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Melville, Dickens, Verne, Wells, Twain, Swift, etc., etc., Asimov, Heinlein, Dick, Card, etc., etc.

If you aren't seeing it, then you aren't looking intensely enough. All of these writers had something more to say than "boy and girl meet and fall in love." Not that there's anything wrong with that - it's just that most stories that endure have something more to say about life and society.

I would agree that being force fed is not typically enjoyable. However, even force feeding has its place, as in Sinclair's The Jungle (sorry, no italics). The reality is, though, that everyone promotes their own beliefs, even if they are that you should form your own beliefs. Secretly, however, every writer wants you to come to his or her own conclusion.

Not to get too political, but it's kind of like the difference between Fox News and CNN - they are both trying to convince you that they are "fair and balanced", but neither are - only one is more subtle than the other.

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Grumpy old guy
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When I come up with a story idea, usually I imbue my characters with elements of myself. And, as a consequence, I also base elements of the story on what I believe. pehaps that's a failing of a new writer, but I don't think I could create a story on a premise I disagree with.

I'm certain that if anyone actually reads one of my stories, they may be able to devine what I think about certain things. But, I don't consciously throw it in their face.

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Unwritten
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Louisa May Alcott was one of my favorite authors, and she broke pov to preach all the time. Once I decided to copy her style, just to see how it went. I ended up laughing so hard I couldn't write anymore. Now I just try and write a story that feels real to me. I look back years later and realize it's all there--themes and values I didn't even realize I was propagating.
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