Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Preachiness in Fiction

Good fiction is not “preachy.” Writer, readers, and editors alike agree on this point. But what does preachiness mean?

The simplest definition says it is someone preaching at the reader in the middle of a story. Basically, the action stops while a character (or narrator or the author) turns to the readers and says in essence: “This is the moral of the story. This is what is true. This is what you should believe.”

However, preachiness is not the same thing as being blunt.

Of late, there seems to be some confusion surrounding that point. Include anything obviously Christian, offer any piece of theology, talk about morals, and immediately concerns of offending with “preachiness” arises.

But you can speak openly of Christianity and its morals within a story. You can include Bible verses and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. You can say, “This is right, this is wrong, and this is why,” within the parameter of story. And you can it without being preachy.

So what is the difference?

I’ve already eluded to the reason: Preachiness stops the action. When the writer goes out of his way to make a point (as if the reader isn't smart enough to figure out himself), when a character starts spouting theology or morality in the middle of a conversation in a way that seems awkward or forced, whether it is one line or ten paragraphs—that’s preachiness.

But that doesn’t me you cannot bluntly declare the truth. On the contrary! We need to be blunt occasionally. The key is to integrate the spiritual within the story so that it seems logical, a natural part of the story. Indeed, the spiritual dimensions should be so interwoven with the story that it would fall apart without them.

And if you can do that, the truth will ring loud and clear—whether you are blunt or not.

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