I’m a member of a forum for Christian writers. Recently, there was a thread at the forum that spoke on the topic of “preachy” fiction. In the context that we were talking about, the term was used in a way to discourage direct writing in fiction of sermonettes and hard, in-your-face message of the gospel. This doesn’t apply just to Christians who are writing fiction. It can apply to the nonfiction who wants to go on a soapbox about their newfound cause whether that be politics, human rights or sexuality. No one likes to have these kinds of things mashed into their face. When it comes to this as a writer and a Christian, I agree… and I disagree.
Sermons are for people who want to read that kind of thing. People who want to give a sermon need to leave that to their nonfiction work. Sermons are quite different from crafting a story because though the aim might be the same the road to get there is very different. Having fiction full of sermonettes is offputting. It’s not to say that it doesn’t have its place when used wisely but to have to wade through 200 to 300 pages of that expecting a story but instead getting a long sermon is frustrating, infuriating and misleading. We don’t want to do that as writers to potential readers because our readers are expecting a story.
However, there are couple points on which I disagree.
Number one, I disagree that we should be using the word preach as if it’s a bad word. The word preach simply means to speak forth, to proclaim. That being said, every writer on the planet is a preacher. Every writer is trying to communicate something through their writing. Nobody is writing just simply to entertain. As as we would like to think that we are purists when it comes to our fiction, we would be lying because every writer is trying to say something. That is to say, every writer is preachy. Some writers are more direct, other writers are indirect and very subtle. Other writers are somewhere in between. But every writer is a preacher to a greater or lesser extent. And though most would be loath to admit that reality, it is a reality nonetheless.
Second, sometimes through a wise and clever use of dialogue, the direct approach comes through and is necessary, especially if it’s keeping in character with the person that is speaking. If it’s been set up that is the kind of person a character is then this is something that people would expect. They may not like that character because that is how they are but they wouldn’t be (we would hope) put off by the whole story because of one character being true to themselves. The problem is that we can’t overdo it with those kinds of characters in that kind of dialogue. But we can include them in our fiction and sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to do so.
Everything that you read there is a writer behind it that has an agenda, a slant, a bent. It’s who we are not just as writers but as humans. We’re biased and that bias shapes what we communicate in our writing. This is seen all over the place. Movies, film, television, video games. Though it’s not supposed to be, it’s in journalism as well. It may not be as prominent in some writing than in others, but it’s there.
So, the next time you pick up a book, realize that you’re being preached to and if you enjoyed what was proclaimed, thank the author with a review, or email, or both.
And don’t complain about preaching in writing ever again.