I’m hoping you can help me here as a lot of your posts have been about political ideologies making bad stories.
I want to write a fictional story with a moral and a political message, but upon rereading what I’ve already written, I’m worried about it being too preachy. Do you have any advice for me?
Good question. Well to be honest, you’re already half way home. That you re-read your work and recognized this problem means that you’ve already got the tools to fix it.
First of all, this is just advice. Don’t think that you’re under obligation to heed any of the pointers I give you. This is YOUR story and if you like it the way it is, then you don’t owe anyone an explanation… you just have to worry about how it sells. That said, since you yourself are saying that it sounds too preachy, my guess is that you’re not entirely satisfied with it.
This is something that has been plaguing writers a lot recently, not only in books, but in movies, comics, as well as other mediums. Too often, they fall into the same trap, chasing the proverbial tail in the pursuit of the holy grail of diversity. They either hire politically motivated people who… aren’t always the best writers, or they pressure the good writers they have to the point where the focus is on political agenda over telling a good story. The entertainment aspect, which is what the industry they’re in is supposed to be about, takes a back seat. Audiences notice this, which is why so many of the movies that have gotten critical acclaim have suffered so badly at the box office.
This is especially damaging when you factor in political fatigue and a greater desire among audiences for escapism. When their favorite books, movies, sporting events, and even commercials are becoming sacrificial lambs on the alter of political narrative, they tend to clench their wallets even tighter, hoping for something that will allow them to get away from it all… even if the narrative is something they agree with.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a political agenda in your work, but if you’re in an industry where the expectation is that you’re supposed to entertain, than the message has to come secondary.
In my opinion, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about putting a political message in an entertainment piece. Let’s look at both, shall we?
The Wrong Way:
Presenting a character with a problem either similar to or identical to the one you want to present. Naming exact people in political office, etc. Presenting one side of the argument, put into context who’s right and who is wrong. The writer is basically spoon-feeding how a reader is supposed to think and paints everyone who doesn’t view things that way as evil.
The Right Way:
Create a hypothetical situation that is very similar to the one you want to address, or use fictional characters that are similar in nature. Show the good and the bad, but give the reasons for both. A good example of this would be the old comics that Stan Lee wrote. The original X-Men were supposed to be a narrative on the Holocaust and racism. However, he didn’t paint the people who wanted mutants to have to register and be persecuted necessarily as evil. He presented their argument as well; mutants could be dangerous, we see it. There is a reason to fear many of them.
So the moral here is to not try to control how your reader thinks. Present both arguments, as well as their context. Let the reader decide for themselves who is the moral right.
A good analogy would be a college classroom. The more engaging classes are when a professor presents a topic for debate and allows the students to weigh out both sides to come to a final moral decision.
The less engaging classes are when the professor puts everything into context, and essentially shuts down any chance of debate by saying that one side is right, while the other is not. The people on the ‘wrong’ side are understandably either going to shut down or get extremely defensive, and nothing is gained. Nothing positive is likely to be gained from that class and the students won’t remember it fondly.
So Leah, what to do with your story… I think that the best thing might be to scrap your first draft and start over. It might be easier than trying to go back and change everything wrong with the first draft if it’s that bad. When you start re-writing or editing remember, tell you story first, and make the political narrative secondary. You have to be able to tell a coherent, enjoyable story before you start worrying about a political message. Otherwise you’re going to disenfranchise your readers. Flesh out all the characters, including the ones you don’t agree with. Put yourself in their shoes and think about why they may have arrived at their conclusions of what is ‘right’.
Let your narrative flow through the story and trust your readers to have the intelligence to get the message you’re trying to convey. If you write a good story, there should be no need to come out and specifically tell them which side is right and which is wrong.
Anyway, I hope this helps! Feel free to email me if you need more help.
Readers, what do you think? Do you have any additional advice for Leah? Let her know in the comments!
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.
I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.
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Catch you on the flip side!
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