D. Robert Pease's Blog

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Preachy or Meaningful?

I tend to have a routine related to reading. I read one fiction book, then one non-fiction, then back to fiction and so on. The thing is, most of the time I tear through the fiction books, and struggle through the non-fiction. But, most of the time the non-fiction books have a much stronger impact on me. It’s not really surprising since much of what I read for my non-fiction choices are books intended to invoke change in my life. Usually of a spiritual nature; C. S. Lewis classics, books on marriage, relationships, etc… Recently I read a book (Kisses from Katie) by an amazing girl who moved to Africa right out of High School, and within a year had adopted a dozen kids and started a ministry feeding a thousand more. If that doesn’t move you to consider your own life and your impact on the world, I don’t know what would.

The thing is though, I love fiction. I love getting lost in worlds that don’t exist otherwise (thus my passion for all things fantasy and science fiction.) So I got to thinking about the stories that really move me, and I realized they are ones that go deeper than mere entertainment. Enders Game, The Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, Dune. Most of my favorite reads also make me think about life, friendships, and what it means to be human. This isn’t to say I like books that preach at me. And people are rarely going to have the same response to a given book. As a teen, I actually wasn’t a big fan of The Chronicles of Narnia. I thought the books were a bit simplistic, but as an adult I grew to appreciate some of the not-so-subtle underlying meaning. But again, there are people who probably think Lewis get’s too preachy.

The reason I bring this all up is I’ve been working on a new book over the past week. It was one I wrote the first draft to a couple of years ago. It is a lot of fun, and I think could stand as just a fine piece of entertainment, but I’m wondering if it could be more than that. I’m actually exploring some pretty deep topics in it, addiction, ambition, importance of friends and family, but I realized I was holding myself back a bit. I was afraid to go too far with it for fear of being preachy. But I shouldn’t just avoid meaningful topics either. I guess that’s what makes good art. Something that makes a statement without going to the point of turning people off.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. What books have you read that really had great meaning for you? If you’re a writer, how have you balanced the desire to write something of substance without preaching to the reader? Let me know.

This post is part of a series of posts called Tween the Weekends from my Middle Grade Authors group: Emblazon. Check out other posts today about writing, life, and middle grade books. http://emblazoners.com/tween-the-weekends/

Posted by D. Robert Pease at: 5:04 PM


Michelle Isenhoff said...

Dale, you are hitting on one of my very favorite things about fiction, children's literature in particular--layers of meaning. While I enjoy reads like Percy Jackson, commercial fiction just doesn't have the deep impact of others that really make you think. Some of my favorites would be "Tuck Everlasting" by Natalie Babbitt, "The Giver" by Lois Lowry, "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" and "The Bronze Bow" by Elizabeth George Speare, and "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeline L'Engle. Avi also does this well, as does Gary Schmidt. One of my major goals as a writer is to work in those seemless layers. If they're done with artistry, with word pictures, symbols, strong characterization and honest emotion they aren't preachy. It's tricky, but when done right this become the substance that makes a story so memorable.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 10:22 AM

Suzanne Warr said...

I'm with you, that fiction books which tackle deep stuff impact me more. However, I personally enjoy it when they do this with a touch (or more than a touch) of humor. I think that's really hard to do, but I find that laughing along with the character makes it easier for me to see how I can absorb the deeper subject/material while remaining positive about my current life.

Of course, given that I write humor myself, it might just be that I want to believe this is possible. ;) Great post, anyway, I enjoyed the read!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 11:38 AM

D. Robert Pease said...

Michelle, this is a tough one for me. I guess most of the time I like commercial fiction more. Of your list I have only read two, The Giver, and A Wrinkle in Time, and I didn't really like either one. I'm not sure what that says about me. I guess maybe I like books that are fun first, but then have some underlying message if you go looking for it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 11:53 AM

D. Robert Pease said...

Susan, I'm right there with you on the humor side. My favorite middle grade books are probably the Artemis Fowl series. The problem is, I don't consider myself that funny. I'm always shocked when someone says something I wrote is. I'm trying to be funny here, but I think I'm just coming off as annoying ;-)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 11:56 AM

Lia London said...

We have a similar pattern and a similar reaction. I even have a C.S. Lewis book sitting beside my bed ready to read when I finish the fun YA fiction I'm in now. The fiction books you mentioned as impacting you have all touched me, too, so I think I really get where you're coming from. One thing to note in the books you chose as being special--Ender's Game, Narnia, etc. Those books have been elevated above the "popular fiction" status to "literature". They are taught in classrooms precisely because there is depth of theme. I don't think there's anything wrong with diving into the deep if your characters are willing to go there. Those who will appreciate it are looking for more than a train ride read anyway. Give it to 'em!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 1:39 PM

D. Robert Pease said...

Maybe you hit the nail on the head, Lia. Many books "become" literature, they aren't necessarily written to be anything more than entertainment (with some deep thought thrown in.) Maybe I just need to focus on writing the best book I can and let others decide if it has any meaning for them.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 2:01 PM

Lois Brown said...

I love it all. Non-fiction, literary fiction, and "commercial." Of course, the non-fiction can not be the lawn mower manual (which is the only kind of reading my husband does.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 9:57 PM

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