My Fiction Site

In the right sidebar are clickable images of the covers of my novels, which will take you to their Amazon listings. Other posts will link to available free works – mostly shorter ones – and assorted thoughts on the writing of fiction.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Stories That Fail Of Their Purpose

     When a writer sets out to produce a polemically-oriented fiction – i.e., a fiction intended to present a political, social, economic, moral, or religious point of view in a fashion intended to persuade readers to it – he enters upon dangerous territory.

     Granted that several well-remembered works of fiction were written to make such points. Granted that when it’s done skillfully, polemic fiction can be as entertaining as any other sort. Granted that among the reasons any storyteller sits down to his computer / typewriter / drafting table / box of slowly drying mud is to express a theme of great importance to him. None of that diminishes the hazards involved in consciously crafting a polemic.

     The principal danger is shortchanging the reader on entertainment, for the sake of the theme. There are several variations of this trap. The writer can have characters preach to one another. He can make the antagonists too obviously “bad guys.” He can violate the “show, don’t tell” rule so the reader will be certain the various actors in his drama are thinking what they’re supposed to be thinking. He can head-hop – i.e., he can shift narrative viewpoints arbitrarily within a scene, confusing the reader as to whose eyes are really seeing the action. There are other ways to err, but those are the ones most common among polemically oriented writers.

     In a way, it’s all one sin. The writer might be there to make a point, but the reader is not. The reader is there principally for entertainment. The entertainment value of a story inheres in the emotional journeys of its Marquee Characters and how vividly the writer can bring them out. If the writer’s need to drive his theme home is too strong, he could easily slough that journey completely...and in so doing, lose the reader and his purchases of the writer’s future works.

     This is becoming a rather important subject. An increasing number of polemicists are writing fiction. The birth of the independently-published fiction movement has elicited a huge number of such writers. Not many of them are capable of avoiding the pitfalls of their orientation. The stories from the less capable ones often get rave reviews from persons who already agree with the writer’s positions, but they’re unlikely to persuade others.

     I’m in the middle of such a novel now. No, I won’t tell you its title or the author’s name; suffice it to say that the author asked me to read it...some time ago. He’s received a great many five-star reviews on Amazon, but they’re all from persons who shared his views before they picked up his book. Mind you, I share his views, which is almost certainly why he asked me to read his book. But I’m not entertained by it. Indeed, it’s such heavy going, its action so relentlessly telegraphed, the good guys so good and the bad guys so bad, that I might not finish it.

     “Preaching to the choir” is wasted effort. It might bring in some revenue, if “the choir” is large enough...and easily enough pleased. But it will fail its larger purpose, the purpose for which the author created it in the first place. The irony here is that entertainment that persuades successfully does so with incredible effectiveness – which the author probably knew when he first set his fingers to the keys. But it must be entertainment first and foremost.

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