Thursday, July 1, 2010

Name that Theme - Part 2

Yesterday, Lois commented on my blog that “themes emerge in all types of writing” and that “stories that don't try and shove the theme down your throat are much more enjoyable.” I agree completely with these comments. In fact, I had already planned on talking about this aspect of theme or preachy-ness in today’s post.

A few years ago, another author asked me if I ever felt that something I had written had become too preachy? In answer, I indicated that it might have been the case in some of my earlier writing, but now if I find something that sounds preachy, I try to get rid of it. The problem with setting out to preach a message or make a point in our writing is that all of us carry with us a certain set of ideals, standards, or morals that we live buy. In most cases I believe that those ideals and standards will seep into our writing subconsciously without us trying. I don't think that's a problem, as long as we're aware of that and we make sure to temper it and not let it take over the story, but instead keep it in the background.

However, when we set out to create a story with the goal of preaching an ideal, making a specific point or addressing a theme, that message usually comes across so strong that it not only alienates the reader, but squashes any chance of resulting in a story that the typical reader will enjoy and want to read.

So, as I said in my original post, you have to focus first on the story, but that doesn’t mean stories shouldn’t teach. In fact, in my next post I’ll discuss how the best stories do teach us.

1 comment:

  1. I think it can depend on your purpose in writing. I agree that a story that is too heavily focused on theme can come across as heavy-handed or preachy, but...I think a good author with a clear idea in mind that he wants to present can write an enjoyable, theme-focused piece of literature.
    For example, while we were in DC I read the book the Alchemist, which is a very, very theme-driven book. At times it seemed a little preachy, but for the most part I enjoyed exploring the ideas Paulo Coelho was presenting. The important part here is that there was still a story. Coelho didn't sacrifice the narrative to the "moral".
    However, this is hard to do in fiction. I think that, as you said, I think its important to let the story be your main objective. This is a problem I've always had with the Narnia books. Christian undertones are great and all, but sometimes they overwhelm the story.
    Anyways, sorry for the novel, Dad. This really was going to be like one sentence and then it just kept coming out. Hope it gives some food for thought. =)