Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How preachy is "preachy"?

One of the things I hear all the time is that the Christian fiction industry does not want "preachy" novels. But, I'm wondering, by what are they defining preachy? There are loads of Christian novels out there that I would consider preachy--some very preachy--and some that make me wonder why it's in the Christian section at all.

It is just so subjective.

When I started writing Finding Angel, I had set out to not mention Christianity at all. I wanted it in there, but I wanted everything to be symbolic or allegoric in nature. I worked my message into the action, and into dialogue under the guise of something else, and did a pretty darn good job of making it all come off as natural. My Christian friends all thought it was nice and sublte.

Then I let someone else read it, someone who is not a religious person (at least as far as I know). That person felt there were certain passages that preached. I looked those passages over and agreed. So I cut them, or rewrote them.

After that, I let another Christian friend read it. She felt I should have made my message more obvious--so my guess is she would have liked the uncut version better.

I did not change it back, though. Those cut parts had made me feel uneasy from the beginning, even though all of my readers other than that one particular one felt the message was not too strong.

I decided who I agreed with, but who's to say either of them is right?

Or maybe both of them are.

What do you consider "preaching" in a novel? What are some books you've read that you thought came off as preachy? What are some books you've read that you thought did a great job of balancing message and story?

I really want to know this. Please leave me a comment, and ask your friends to leave me a comment. This is a subject that has been burning in the back of my mind ever since I started writing. How preachy is preachy?

BTW, preachiness is not reserved for Christian messages. Just pick up Next by Michael Crichton. Holy cow. He actually includes an entire lecture in this book. But if a Christian book did that with a sermon, it would never get published! (I wish Next never had been published. Even bought as a bargain book, it was a waste of money. Six bucks I'll never see again :P.)

June 3--update--

Well, I suppose had I gotten ahold of On Writing by Stephen King beforehand I may have never posted this. He talks all about symbolism and theme in this book. It's wonderful! But beware before you read it, as always, there's loads of foul language--does he write anything that isn't full of that? Nope, according to this book. But his insight is great.

Here's a great quote from him on the topic of symbolism:

"I think that, when you read your manuscript over (and when you talk it over), you'll see if symbolism, or the potential for it, exists. If it doesn't, leave well enough alone. If it does, however--if it's clearly a part of the fossil you're working to unearth--go for it. Enhance it. You're a monkey if you don't."


Jacob R Parker said...

It can be a tough line to walk. If I was forced in my writing to choose between a bit "too preachy" and a bit "too hidden," I'd choose "too preachy" because I write for God. I've often wondered if a lot, if not most, of the complaints about preachiness are actually veiled complaints about the message of the "sermon." I suppose, personally, if the story ever stops in order for the message to be delivered, that's preaching. I think when the message is infused into the story, and actually affects the course of the story, that's a good thing, and isn't preachy. But this doesn't mean the message can't be overt. That's basically how I see it, anyway.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Oh, what a great point! Veiled complaints about the message may very well be the source of some readers' issues with Christian fiction. I had issues with Philip Pullman and the Golden Compass series for that reason--his message. His writing is quite good, his stories engaging, but his message, well, satanic. The thing is, I didn't consider the books preachy, even though they had an overt message. (I considered them evil, though, and for the first time in my life gave serious thought to burning a library book...)

I agree there is a difference between stopping the story to have a sermon and infusing an overt message into the story. I'm just trying to get a handle on how overt that message can be and not turn people off.

One of the comments my non-religious reader had was, "Who are you writing for?" I think that has a lot to do with it. If you're writing for like-minded people, who want something they can high-five over, then be really overt. But, with my books, my intent was to have the story be the showcase, and the underlying message be the part that made the reader go, "Hmmm, there was something about that book that just felt like...more." And hopefully, those thoughts will niggle away at their mind after they finish. Maybe even make them want to go back and read it again!

Dayle James Arceneaux said...

Tosca Lee's Demon is a great example. She actually gave the entire account of the Gospel story without being preachy in the least. It's a great book to give to non-believers because they won't be repelled by the message which is obvious.

For me I think the difference is the character in Demon was simply stating his view to the other characters. He wasn't the author veiled as the character talking to the reader.

So that's my test. Who's speaking? the character? or Dayle?

I don't think non-preachy = the absence of Christian content.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Demon is one of my favorite books EVER. So is Havah. And I agree, the way she told the story never once came across as preachy.