Wednesday, March 28, 2012

To Preach or Not to Preach in Your Writing

I got a review for my book The Traveler's Companion that I thought was exceptional, despite the criticism. 

"This book was an excellent read. Don't let the three star rating take away from a great book. The author has written a smart, elegant, and enjoyable story. However, I found myself distracted by the preaching throughout the prose. The opinions of the author are obvious and overstated.  )"

The question is, can an author inject his opinions about life in to a narrative? For me, the answer is yes. The reality is, there's no way not to do this. The opinions will always seep through, no matter how hard an author tires to suppress them. Often the content or story line reveals the opinions of the author. I know that, when I watch most entertainment generated out of Hollywood, that I am going to get a certain political point of view: an evil handgun is going to mysteriously get up by itself, shoot an adorable minority girl who has skin cancer because of global warming, and when she's taken to the hospital, she's turned away because she doesn't have health insurance. Is this a modern day tragedy or political bias? Both. Is it good art or bad? Neither. If you don't agree with the politics, it's bad, if you do, it's a fair reflection of urban life in our times. 

But shouldn't the author suppress his political or religious opinions? Hell no. Why should he? One should hope that an author's first priority is to the truth, but an author without an opinion is worse than being overtly preachy--its cowardess, and the prose will reflect it. The danger is that the author uses popular media bias to help sell a work or to pander to an audience, rather than try and prove a point with facts and interesting insights. An author should also hope he doesn't appear overtly preachy, like I was criticized for up in my review, but as I've stated, its better to have an opinion in a work than not have one. 

Was a movie about a premature ice age caused by modern pollution preachy, as in The Day After Tomorrow or in Soylent Green? Maybe. Were you entertained despite it. Probably. The political message behind the work had to be stated in order for the work to have any relevance. The writers endeavored to touch on subject matter important to modern viewers as a vehicle for a cool concept. Whether or not global warming is a reality is up for the viewer to decide. For me, I like to be presented with factual information, a realistic debate rather than media hype, but first and foremost I want to be entertained. It's entertaining to get insights into modern debates, if they're good insights. For instance, Schindler's List has a message: one man can make a difference, even when he's pitted against the most powerful army in history. Do you agree with this in every instance? Probably not. The other obvious theme of the movie is that racism and anti-antisemitism are destructive, cruel, and will ultimately fail as a social policy. Do we argue or blame Spielberg for his opinions? I don't. Avatar is about the spiritual connection between a race of beings and their environment: destroy the environment, destroy yourself. Corny or great art? It's the top grossing movie of all time, so be careful before you say corny. Titanic, another Cameron super success, is about man's arrogance with respect to nature. The Dark Night has Batman learning that extreme good is inexplicably tied to extreme evil. The writers could have left out their opinions or insights into life, but the work would have suffered. 

Hopefully an author will know when his opinions are hurting the work, but if a reader doesn't agree with your opinion, even a little will seem too much. I try to craft my themes into a work so that I have clearly stated my position, and, hopefully, in the most entertaining way possible. After that, its up to the reader to decide. 

I want to thank the reviewer for the honest appraisal of my work and, because the book is FREE for a limited time on Smashwords, I'd like to invite everyone to take a look and see for themselves if the reviewer was correct in this instance. I'd also like to hear from other authors about this subject. To preach or not to preach!