Wednesday, August 5, 2009

An Interesting Article

So I stumbled across an interview with Stephen King and Jerry Jenkins. In it they gave some good advice to writers. But they also raised an interesting question, in my mind...Is it wise to write with a message in mind? King says not to make your plot about the message, Jenkins says to consider your audience.

No one wants (or shouldn't want) to sound "preachy," but walking away from a tale with a feeling of depth or new insight can be satisfying. So I think it can be tempting to want to do a tale that ends with "and the moral of the story is..." But that can also be a turn off to the reader. It runs the risk of being condescending to the audience.

It is possible to weave a message into the texture of the tale so that the reader doesn't see it under the layers. Chuck Palahniuck did that with "Survivor." He wrote an obvious social commentary on celebrities, fame, religion, and money. But he also slipped in the idea that schools were pumping out little robots by likening them to a cult. I never would have picked up on that, had he not explained it on his website.

Which brings up the subcategory of -- if you do preach should it be overt or covert? And if it's covert how do you make sure that your message is successfully received?

So, what are your thoughts on this? To preach or not to preach? And if so, overt or covert?

Link to the interview:

Link to Palahniuk's statement:


  1. Did you ever read King's "On Writing"?

    He says story comes first, but if you can identify a theme or message in the story then it does no harm to enhance that in your re-writes.

    The writersdigest site appears to be down right now, or my firewall or somesuch is blocking it here at work.

    When I was a teen I wrote a bunch of stories with recurring characters. One was a fairytale second-ranker who wanted to jazz up his career by doing something edgier, so he moved into horror. Trouble was he never got the hang of it. He'd bumble his way through a serial killing, then round off the story with an inappropriate moral or proverb.

  2. Written well, that kind of a story could be hilarious (in a demented kind of way, lol). It reminds of the movie "American Psycho."

    The link is good;I checked it. But the site takes a few minutes to load (on Mozilla Firefox) because they have a ton of stuff on it...

    I dunno. I hate trying to tell people what to do, but I've noticed that a lot of my stories are about, allude to, or contain a character dealing with abuse. It's a recurring theme -- though I never intend to add it to the mix -- it just comes out. So I'm hoping that it's not coming off as preachy.

    Even the poem you liked was about a battered woman being murdered by her husband... Two days ago a man killed his estranged wife then committed suicide right here in my little neck of the woods. He gunned her down in the CVS parking lot as she was trying to get away. Two children are now orphans.

    That stuff makes me crazy. I hate "preaching" but damn, it's got to stop. What's wrong with people? Is there anything more terrifying then the person you should be able to trust killing you?

    Okay, I'm putting my soapbox away, lol.

  3. I dunno. I hate trying to tell people what to do, but I've noticed that a lot of my stories are about, allude to, or contain a character dealing with abuse.

    I finished reading your critters story, and you're still on topic - the only piece of your's on here that didn't explicitly deal with abuse was the prose poem about the warrior and his shield. And I strongly suspect that the reason the shield was so snarky was because it had had a rough childhood. ;-)

    Hey, whatever it takes to work it out. Cheaper than therapy.

  4. Hey! I like snarky characters, lol.

    Oh I have some tales that don't talk about it...but they're about sex or mayhem of another sort, lol.

    The ghost story wasn't about abuse. It was about dying. Not to sound defensive, lol.