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Author Topic: Ethics in Writing
legolasgalactica
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This is somewhat more a question of opinion than anything technical about writing. My concern while writing my story is that because it is a story from the scriptures and deals a lot about religion, I began with words and scenes straight from Sunday school. Now that, in and of itself, is not a problem; except that part of my goal in writing this book is to reach people who, for whatever reason, wouldn’t be inclined to pick up the Bible, with the goal that in the right environment, they might consider something they never otherwise would.

After putting out the first few pages, it dawned on me that anyone skeptical or uninterested in religion would put it back after reading just the first few lines. Now, my story does follow two different story lines and one of them is, for a large portion in the beginning, a much more typical adventure/fantasy type story with things that would appeal to the nonreligious reader. Would it be dishonest or unethical to intentionally put that first so as to draw the reader on before eventually introducing the more religious aspects which play a very significant role throughout the rest of the book? My thought is that at least I have the reader’s attention and interest (and the story is entertaining, compelling and often riveting all the way through), so that they won’t judge the book solely on the first missimpression that they get and give it enough of a chance that they can consider all of the aspects it has to offer.

So if I were to start it off and even market/advertise it playing up the traditional novel story while downplaying the eventual and overwhelming religious aspects, would that seem morally wrong? Or just strategic missionary work?

Perhaps the fact that I have the question is the answer, but I’d still like others' opinions.
Thanks.

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History
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Sounds duplicitous.
And duplicity always leads to contrary results.

If it is your intention to evangelize in your fiction, I advise you do so openly and honestly. There is a substantial niche market for Christian fiction, for example. And any book that is entertaining in its own right will attract a wider audience--if not preachy. Very few liked to be preached to or be Bible-belted.

Many of my stories contain Jewish characters and themes, but these themes are universal (Justice, Humility, Sacrifice, Love) and form the internal conflict for my protagonist(s) as they encounter and surmount the external conflict that composes the main narrative story. Faith (often the struggle with faith) is part of the character's journey and not preached or even offered as a parable to the reader who is merely an observer. That being said, we always learn from such observation, of how protagonists cause and/or surmount their suffering, triumph over challenges, become or fail to become people we admire.

The literary adage "Show! Don't tell!" is even more applicable to the person of faith. Proselytizers are annoying, but people who strive to live by their faith humbly and in service to others have our respect and may (or may not) inspire our interest.

I would say, in my humble "preaching" opinion [Wink] , this is why Scripture says:

"I will also give thee for a LIGHT of the nations, that My salvation may be unto the end of the earth.'
--Isaiah 49:6 (JPS, 1917)

Have your story and characters "walk the walk" and make their failures and succeses be human and relatable and real.

Respectively,
Dr. Bob

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extrinsic
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My, my, legolasgalactica, you have a brainstorm of concerns before you. Ethos perhaps but not ethics is on point, I'd say.

I will address the several concerns at once with a singular rhetorical question: Who is your audience? Apostates? Penintents? Preachers and choirs? The unwashed masses? From another approach: What is your mission, calling, message, purpose?

Those two questions are correlated to one another. Their answers are complex, perhaps too complex to address in a global, public writing forum. One principle on point is religious and political beliefs are potentially contentious and, therefore, proscribed by Hatrack forum rules for their potential to incite confrontational passions. You have, however, respectfully couched you concerns from a writing perspective.

To begin into a first principle, the writing concept known as Poetic Justice was well-understood and known in Ancient Greece. Aristotle discusses its parameters in his Poetics. The concept has been discussed, promoted, and denounced throughout the opus of Western literature.

Poetic justice portrays wants and problems wanting satisfaction--dramatic complication--the very foundation of dramatic structure, in openings, beginnings, middles, endings, stakes, outcomes, dramatic turns, etc., upon the bases of: humans are frail and faulty; well-born humans are divinely ordained with inherent goodness and low-born humans are divinely, inherently wicked; cooperating humans are self-sacrificingly noble for a greater good, are good and deserve reward; and wicked humans are uncooperatively self-involved, self-serving, self-absorbed to the point of harming a greater good, are evil and deserve punishment.

A simpler definition is good is rewarded and evil is punished. These are conventions of Romanticism: the literary movement that rejected late Renaissance era Cartesian Rationalism's divinely ordained free will and reaffirmed divinely ordained predeterminism.

On the other hand, Emily Dickinson's poem "Tell all the truth but tell it slant" speaks to packaging a message in such a way that the message is persuasive and enlightening, or the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins' "A Spoonful of Sugar" makes the medicine go down; both demonstrating rhetoric's powerful appeals for potential audiences. Creative writing is rhetoric at its most potent appeal.

Thus, the several rhetoric appeals are on point, beginning with decorum: suit one's words to the subject matter and to each other, the occasion (kairos), and the audience. Also logos (logic), ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion), and kleos (reputation) appeals.

Appreciate and realize rhetoric's dual nature, that it is persuasion and an expression of identity; that is, that the cooperative conversation that communication is invariably signals the viewpoint of the signaler, the receptivity of the receiver and their degrees of willing cooperation, and a plan of writing will unfold.

During one of the earliest writing workshops I participated in so long ago, one of the writers presented a "participation performance" piece that involved a deviously disguised communion ritual. A cookie for a host, grape juice for the wine, and other assorted communion motifs. The piece was not original to the writer. It was borrowed in whole cloth, verbatim, from a bible tract that I'd read a short time previously.

A minister of an evangelical church had picked me up hitchhiking, had given me the tract and an earful of witnessing for my fare. I had the original to compare with the "performance piece." First, I was deeply insulted that the tract writer's and the workshop writer's intent was to impose a sacred sacrament on me without my consent. My spiritual belief prohibits practicing other beliefs' sacraments. Doing so is a mortal vice.

Second, that the piece was represented as the writer's original work, plagiarism, is a greater wickedness for any writer. If one would steal from another, one best expect to have one's work stolen.

I left the workshop that day at the moment of my realizing the wickednesses of the "writer," the presented work, and gave notice to the moderator of my concerns afterward. The piece's "writer" was expelled and suffered further consequences as well.

[ June 20, 2013, 03:42 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MAP
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You should present your story honestly. If it is a fun adventure with a little religious commentary on the side then start with the the adventure. If it is an adventurous story that is heavy with religous preaching then make sure your readers know that from the get go. You want to attract readers who will enjoy your story, not tick them off by promising one type of story and delivering another.

[ June 20, 2013, 10:24 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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Brendan
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I'm with History on this. There is no point trying to hide the religious nature of any story. For several reasons.

1. Others will pick it and tell all anyway. There are reviews, discussion groups, critics etc. that will, if the book has any success, declare to the world any religious message that is found in the story. So it will be difficult to get them reading the story anyway - if they have any sense of skepticism or disinterest.

2. If you succeed in getting this audience to read it without their knowledge of where it is going, when it gets there they will feel duped and outraged by the sense of dishonesty. This is an impediment to the entire purpose for your writing - much better to be up front about your intent.

3. If strategic missionary work is your goal, ask not what you can do for God, ask God what He wants you to do with Him. This probably isn't the audience for that conversation.

Does that mean you cannot use stories to make a religious point? Not at all. C.S.Lewis's Narnia series was clearly and intentionally allegorical about the bible, and successful in a publishing sense. His friend Tolkien was unintentionally allegorical about the bible, and perhaps more successful. But both simply wanted to write great stories. Both held strong religious beliefs that came through in their stories. Neither intended to trick readers into a reading their stories so that they could then hear some of the bible.

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legolasgalactica
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Thank-you all. Very good advice! It helped a lot.
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LDWriter2
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Hmm, I come late to this party--to all of the discussions you brought forth legolasgalactica--and one reason is that I don't have anything new to say. I think everything I would say has been said here.

I have read many stories that have had "messages" from live a good life to environmentalism-global warming, to "You need Jesus for salvation. Some have been good, some have been barely readable. Some have been mainstream and some where for a certain Niche.

It depends on how it is done, what type of story and the purpose.

As has been said it can be done and done well.

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legolasgalactica
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Well, i don't suppose this story has a defined or planned "message" but i simply want to tell a story. A story that I feel is compelling on many levels. But it does have preaching between characters because that's what happened. Not that I specifically want to target the audience, except indirectly. For example, if I were to tell a story that intertwined with the life of Paul from the New Testament, it would be nothing if it didn't include some of his many missions and sermons. Just like a book dealing with Napoleon would be empty if it didn't include some of the politics, wars, and intrigue that is his story. But there is obviously more to tell than those elements and a good story needs more than the history books provide.

[ June 21, 2013, 03:51 AM: Message edited by: legolasgalactica ]

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rcmann
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I have been reading your posts. I mean no offense, but you worry too much. Write your story. Tell it. let it out.

*THEN* agonize over the incidentals.

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legolasgalactica
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[Smile]
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Pyre Dynasty
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This one makes me think of Matthew 6:24 "No man can serve two masters."
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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by legolasgalactica:
Well, i don't suppose this story has a defined or planned "message" but i simply want to tell a story. A story that I feel is compelling on many levels. But it does have preaching between characters because that's what happened. Not that I specifically want to target the audience, except indirectly. For example, if I were to tell a story that intertwined with the life of Paul from the New Testament, it would be nothing if it didn't include some of his many missions and sermons. Just like a book dealing with Napoleon would be empty if it didn't include some of the politics, wars, and intrigue that is his story. But there is obviously more to tell than those elements and a good story needs more than the history books provide.

I may have misunderstood what you were asking. I assumed that if it was religious by nature than there would be some message to it. But if you are using religion as a setting, or using a religious character that's different. Both have been done too. In the example you used I think the basics would be the same as using any historical figure. I have read stories about Paul on his journeys. His thoughts and many conversations were made up. Some included references to what he said in his Letters but much of it was what the writer thought he would think and feel from what was said in the Letter or in some cases not said. A few years ago I critted some chapters for a novel that explored what happened to Adam and Eve after the Fall, before Cain killed his brother. The writer used different names for the characters but it soon became obvious who they were. There were some references to the Creator and the Fall but most of it had to do with survival and just living with very little direct references to Scripture. I lost touch with the writer so I have no idea how the novel is progressing but by now it should be done and published or at least attempted to be published.

As an example: if a character is a Pastor I think it would be natural in include some of his sermons. Not all of them and not necessarily all of the ones that are included. That could get boring and throw some readers out of the story but some parts of some sermons as I said could be good. So if you have friends talking to one another, they would talk about Jesus or one would try to comfort, convince or encourage the other with something from the Bible or about Jesus, I think that would be natural.

In the one novel I am trying to revise so I can get it e-published the best friend of the MC is a christian. The friend does try to convert the MC at times and there was one issue I felt needed to be dealt with but most of that is in the background and usually off camera. Sometimes it comes to the forefront. The main part of the story is about the MC saving the day and how she deals with personal scars and such but the other woman is her friend so they talk.

I don't know if any of this helps at all but they are my thoughts on the subject.

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legolasgalactica
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Still trying to decide which 'beginning' to begin with:

A father teaching his son; real 1st words: "In the beginning, God created..."

or

A scene about a godless soldier (who later comes to faith) in the heat of battle.

These are two different stories that eventually collide. The MC is the soldier, but the other character is a close second. It contrasts each's upbringing and life struggles, etc. until they both fall into the same plot line.

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MattLeo
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Make your choices, deal with the consequences.

Where would authors be if they had to be up front about what they were doing? No suprises. No plot twists. No irony.

As an author you can do anything you want in your story universe, but you're responsible for the artistic consequences. You can have the ring-ding fairy float down on the last page and solve all the protagonist's problems, and that doesn't make you a bad person; it makes you a bad writer.

We don't get to mislead readers because we have a special ethics all our own; we have plain ordinary ethics in a special context. Everyone knows we deal in fabrications. People come to us to be bamboozled, the way they come to stage magician to be misdirected. Everyone understands it's the mystery writer's business to drag red herrings across the reader's path. The only issue is whether the writer gets gasps or groans from the reader. Sometimes when he's been a bit *too* clever he gets both at the same time (I'm talking about you Dame Agatha).

I think there are certain special ethical considerations that come up in writing situations where the role of the author might be unclear to the reader. Historical fiction is the prime example, where the author has to monkey with the historical facts to make the story work. If he does this with a *political* ax to grind, he's not being misleading about the story world (which is allowable because it's art), he's being misleading about the real world (which isn't allowable because that's lying). A stage magician crosses over the line when he begins to use his skills to sell himself as a faith healer or guru.

If you write about something you really care about, like duty to country or Jesus, the problem is usually an artistic one rooted in unexamined naiveté. For example, if you believe that accepting Jesus as your personal savior means he'll come down from the sky like the ring-ding fairy and fix all your problems, your writing might convince *yourself*, but it's not likely to bring any lost skeptical lambs to Jesus.

But look how C.S. Lewis, possibly the greatest Christian apologist in the last thousand years, wrote about faith. Faith in Narnia doesn't fix all your problems; it forces you to confront them, but armed with clarity and purpose. That's why his stories were so powerful. They're full of the fantastic, but don't rely on the fantastic to make their point.

If you write about something you care about, you owe it to *yourself* to put that belief to the test in your writing. That's why the best writers often have just a streak of cynicism in them. Even C.S. Lewis. If you read his non-fiction apologia, they spend more time debunking what Christians believe about Christianity than debunking atheism. That's because to convince a non-believer, you have to deal with the things he sees about belief more clearly than a believer would.

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extrinsic
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On a purely structural basis, a writer knows the dramatic outcome of a published narrative. Part of the contract readers and writers enter into is a writer knows what happens from the beginning through the ending and readers don't know what happens at the beginning and will know what happens by the ending.

Artful mystery and misdirection, delay and withholding, reversal and revelation are a writer's stocks in trade. If a narrative opening or at any time before a denouement act gives away the ending, readers would have no complusion to read the entire work.

I regularly find premature revelation, reversal, and complication satisfaction in my own writing and in struggling writer's writing. I believe premature feature expressions are a direct consequence of a natural inclination for hasty writing.

Given the two possible first introduction openings of a person born to faith and one coming to faith later in life, I'd determine which takes first precedence, though both introductions theoretically would be openings: the first one opening introductions of other features, like narrative voice, overall dramatic complication, and setting and milieu; the second opening for introducing the other central character's identity and crisis driving the character's dramatic complication.

If both characters experience transformation--change--then they are both protagonists, though one should be preeminent to a degree that readers realize, hence, one a protagonist (first place contestant), the other a deuteragonist (second place contestant). Therein is a strategy for determining which opening comes first. The protagonist is first introduced, most affected and most changed by the action, and most successful at achieving personal growth.

If the underlying message or meaning of the whole is promoting a religous faith value system, then the faithful agonist already steeped in the faith must experience struggle, doubt, trial and error, setbacks. At the outset, he or she is already on the path. The only persuasive dramatic direction he can go is from good to bad, or from faithful to wicked. Though a final act repudiation or redemption can restore him to the faithful path.

Similarly, the other agonist (contestant), if beginning wicked, can and should go toward faithful. The direction from bad to good is actually less challenging to write than good to bad to good, obviously. From that dramatic strategy, I'd have little doubt the faithful agonist should have first place. His journey is more complex and potentially more appealing from it.

The two agonists still need tangible personal wants and problems to satisfy along the journey. These tangible dramatic complications are what preoccupies their journeys and readers' foreminds along the way. Satisfying the intangibles of faith and wickedness as the dramatic conflict are the arftul misdirection action that might underly the tangible action.

As an example, say the faithful agonist has a crisis of faith from the outset. That's an intangible complication. What tangible wants and problems might relate to it? Say the faithful angonist is pestered by a faithless nemesis (the opposing contender of two or more contestants wanting what only one can have). The nemesis would tempt the agonist with worldliness. The agonist would compromise his values out of a fundamental social being need to cooperate in order to be part of a social-culture group for a greater good, like commerce. Say they vie for a right to own a transportation franchise: freight-pack humans, donkeys, horses, wagons, cars, trucks, buses, ships, airplanes, or spacecraft. Perhaps they own the means but vie for a government-granted, exclusive right to a route. That's a tangible want fraught with tangible problems: a tangible dramatic complication that could involve the faithful agonist and the wicked agonist.

[ October 12, 2013, 02:21 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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legolasgalactica
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Hmm... some interesting ideas here.
Extrinsic, so you are saying I should start h the character who undergoes the most complicated and compelling changes? You suggested that might be the one raised in the faith. As of yet, it isn't, although your suggestion could make things interesting... but as it stands, I incorrectly stated that he is a CLOSE second. He is somewhat more static, the wise and stable mentor of the MC. But he has some growth as he overcomes self-doubt and lack of faith, faces rejection, etc. So he plays an important, even Critical part in the story, but the one the audience cheers for is the soldier. And so it seems I should start with him.?

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extrinsic
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Not per se the most complicated (not complex per se or intricate, though yes, strongest dramatic complication) and compelling changes (though most compelled by forces of antagonism) but surely the character who is most changed, most affected by the dramatic action, and most successful at personal growth should be introduced first.

Since he's a soldier, he can be an otherwise good and likeable person but spiritually empty and seeking fulfillment though vigorously resistant to spiritual fulfillment.

What I see is a routine interrupted opening. A singular event interrupts the soldier's everyday soldier routine. Might that be an epiphany or a sudden crisis of conscience? Maybe a reminder of an innocent time from his youth that had a tragic outcome? Maybe a close call with death and the realization that he has no trust in a meaningful afterlife, hence, he wants some kind of legacy that will live on after he's gone? What does he personally want that's problematic and how does he come to realize it? That to me is a way to open with the soldier's perspective.

Other possible openings are a visitation, a gathering, a danger at the door, a specimen--like the soldier's reporting of a first negative glimpse of the god talker, say on a battlefield aftermath, and his instant contempt for the faithful man, though the god talker and the soldier don't meet--or any of another dozen story shapes from Jerome Stern's Making Shapely Fiction.

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Reziac
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So long as the story is presented honestly, not as your personal soapbox -- I don't care. I'm mostly an atheist, but I love the Brother Cadfael books beyond all rationality; if I believed, I could step into his sandals in a heartbeat. I feel with Rosemary Sutcliff's Roman soldiers when they sacrifice to Mithras. I go right along with the pervasive Catholicism in the Deryni novels. It's part of the environment, the story, the people. It's not preached. Not being religious doesn't mean you can't get deeply into a book where religion, even as conversion or fanaticism, are part and parcel of the story. It's all in how the author invites you into his world.

That said, I'm more likely to be hooked by the godless soldier than by the teaching father, and I think it makes more sense to start with the person who experiences change than with the one who invokes it.

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legolasgalactica
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
That said, I'm more likely to be hooked by the godless soldier than by the teaching father

Your sentiments about stories that portray beliefs and acts of worship different from your own reflect mine, exactly. And my first thought was to start with the teaching father because, well, it is THE BEGINNING so to speak. But I wanted a story that could appeal to all audiences, and realized that beginning would mainly hook people excited about the creation, etc. There is so much more to this story than that.

It is my hope and intent to create a story that anyone can get into, and whatever message people take away is left up to the reader. Whether readers are looking for mere entertainment, moving stories of good and evil or if they're interested in philosophical and religious discussion, I hope to deliver.

My thought was if I were to pick up a book that had ideas I dissagree with, but was fascinating and well written I could enjoy it anyway. If, however, the first words were the straightforward manifesto of those things I might not read long enough to decide it might be worth reading anyway. So, if I ever finish it, I'll I have to see if it compares with other works you have enjoyed, Resiac.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
So long as the story is presented honestly, not as your personal soapbox -- I don't care.

Well I'm reminded of Dorothy Parker's quip about Katherine Hepburn's acting: "She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." Folks on a soapbox are usually honest; they're just annoying about it. If they were deceptive the'd be less annoying.

Persuasive writing needn't be haranguing. It can be seduction.

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Reziac
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In my observation, most soapbox presentations are fundamentally dishonest -- slanted, warped, and selective -- which may be a good deal of why I dislike 'em in fiction. A character on a soapbox is one thing; the author on a soapbox is quite another. And this is so even if it's seduction rather than haranguing (the soapboxing can be subtle -- Iain Banks leaps to mind).
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Merlion-Emrys
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Dishonest isn't the same as incorrect. Everyone presents things from their own point of view. Just because you disagree with it doesn't mean they are being dishonest.

Granted of course people with strong beliefs sometimes choose to vilify those who are different or whatever but that's a different thing. I don't see "being on a soapbox" as inherently dishonest, in the end that just depends on the person and whether they are motivated by actual belief/conviction or just trying to use the semblance of it for some other purpose.

I am an open-minded spiritual person with leanings towards Hermticism and esoteric traditions, so I sometimes find myself rolling my eyes at things written both by the devoutly religious and by the devoutly anti-religious. For example, I like the Narnia stories but do sometimes find the more obvious use of heavy-handed Christian doctrine a little annoying, just as I love China Mieville's Bas-Lag stories but sometimes chuckle a little at the occasional dismissals of religion or obvious socialist proselytizing.

In the end many things attract or repel many people from a story, so write what you want to write, try to do it in a positive way and whatever happens happens.

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MattLeo
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I'm not even sure one can even reliably tell whether an author is on his soapbox. I'm a satirist, so I have a mischievous habit of standing on other people's soapboxes and making outrageously bad speeches. If people believe I'm being sincere, I don't correct them because that spoils the joke.

Sometimes I do things which would make some people infer I have some agenda I don't have. When I realize I have that problem, I don't rush to fix it. If I did that, I might end up doing the very thing I'm pretending not to do: twisting the story so it represents *me*.

For example, in one story I made the heroine-protagonist a believer in God. I did that becuase it served the characterization. She's supposed to feel like an outsider, and religious faith is a taboo in science fiction. Religion in sci-fi is usually regarded as superstition and its believers depicted as overwhelmingly hypocrites or dupes. If we take that for granted, then a sincere and intelligent believer is the ultimate outsider.

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shimiqua
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quote:
I think it makes more sense to start with the person who experiences change than with the one who invokes it.
Amen.

I think it's important to remember that you're telling a story. You're not teaching. The story should be the teacher, and if you step beyond telling the story, then you are stepping between the student and the lesson.

Probably makes no sense what I just said. But I'll continue.

Focus on the character, focus on the change, focus on hope.

The reader will take whatever lesson they want from the story, but that's their business. The relationship between a reader and a story is sacred imo, and the Author needs to stay clear the heck away from it.

Your job is simple. Tell the story that's bursting out of your head. Ignore manipulation, ignore trying to convert or change a person, and focus on converting or changing your character. That's the only thing you can control.

And above all else, just write. Don't worry about what the readers will think, because that's on them. Just tell the best story you can.

[ October 16, 2013, 01:12 PM: Message edited by: shimiqua ]

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shimiqua
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Also, Merlion-Emrys, I'm SO glad you're back!
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MAP
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quote:
I think it's important to remember that you're telling a story. You're not teaching. The story should be the teacher, and if you step beyond telling the story, then you are stepping between the student and the lesson.

Probably makes no sense what I just said. But I'll continue.

Focus on the character, focus on the change, focus on hope.

The reader will take whatever lesson they want from the story, but that's their business. The relationship between a reader and a story is sacred imo, and the Author needs to stay clear the heck away from it.

You're job is simple. Tell the story that's bursting out of your head. Ignore manipulation, ignore trying to convert or change a person, and focus on converting or changing your character. That's the only thing you can control.

And above all else, just write. Don't worry about what the readers will think, because that's on them. Just tell the best story you can.

Ditto all of this. Sheena is so brilliant. [Smile]

Just tell your story, honestly without fear.

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Merlion-Emrys
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I, as is my wont, agree with Sheena.

It IS a form of teaching but its similar to teaching by example. Write your truth and it will have the effect it has. We all struggle with trying to do this in a way that will be accepted and understood but I think its all part of finding your voice.

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