In my last post, Can We Go Back To Good Story Telling, I covered characterization and point of view.
Now that we have three dimensional characters and we know the story is theirs to tell, let’s move on to the story. Specifically the difference between fiction with a message (showing) and message fiction (telling).
All fiction has a message. It may be Whoo hooo! Going on adventures is fun! or it could be bad things happen to jerks. No matter the story, there will be a message.
I’ve always been a big fan of the Charles Dickenson, the Bronte sisters and Mark Twain via books and Rocky & Bullwinkle in cartoons. The fiction they produced had a message, however that message was couched in a good story.
A Christmas Carol, which has been remade so many times with so many variations, it would be a wonder that anyone in a developed country hasn’t seen it.
That message was rather overt. The most important things in life can’t be bought. But, also, there is still time to change regardless of how bad you may have become.
However, even if you get none of the moral messages of the story, it’s still a good story. This was always one of my favorite stories as a child, mainly because I always wondered if it would turn out differently each time. Sadly, it never did.
(Sorry, no spoiler warning. The story has been out since 1843, if you haven’t read it by now, get on with it. Or read Richard Paolinelli’s recent adaptation. It’s got zombies.)
Another story that everyone has read or watched in one form or another is the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Much of what we think of today, cuts out a lot of the political commentary that was in the original book. The first time I read the original, I thought I had the wrong book. Despite the political messages of the book, there was a story worth reading.
A good story touches the emotions of the reader. Romance tugs at the heartstrings, action/adventure builds excitement, dystopian stirs dread or hope depending on who’s writing it. The reader becomes invested in the story. They become a part of the story.
The story never tells you what to think. It may lead you to a particular conclusion, but it does say “you must believe this.” The message is shown through well developed characters and plots.
For as much as I detest the message of Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons, it is first and foremost, an interesting story. The message, which is to portray the Catholic Church as corrupt and it’s followers as morons, does not take away from the intrigue and mystery.
Contrast that with message fiction where the story is secondary to the message.
The worst offenders of message fiction that I’ve run into are Christian fiction and fiction by SJWs. They are so heavy handed in trying to shove their particular message down the readers throat that they neglect the story.
I used to read quite a lot of Christian romance novels, mainly because they were less nauseating than the mainstream dreck peddled as romance novels. (Seriously people a series of sex scenes does not a romance novel make.) I ran across books that completely stopped mid story to give a several page sermon. That was usually about where I stopped reading them.
SJW fiction is just as bad, except instead of a few page sermon, it’s done with over stereotyped characters, stale settings, contrived plots and by drawing attention to details that should fade to the background.
Mainstream YA novels were once lighter fun reads. Harry Potter is a world of impossibilities and adventure. The moral issues are fairly universal with obvious good and bad. There’s action, adventure and three-headed dogs. Overall, it’s fun.
Then the SJWs hit and what used to be a fun category turned into message fiction that beats the reader over the head with the latest and greatest social justice cause. Instead a few pages of sermon, though, the whole book becomes one. I’ve seen internal monologues going on about how sleeping with everything that moves doesn’t really make you slut or very awkward character exchanges where not a single character disagrees or questions the latest SJW cause, except maybe the bad guy who is usually a really bad stereotype. I was about ready to gag after the millionth time of reading “love is love” in a book that was supposed to be about chasing some monster or exploring outer space.
The moral of this blog post is to “make the story the priority.”