Since we all experience life, we tend to gravitate toward those causes that have impacted us. Or you may feel affected by the idea of wanting to stop an injustice because your heart is moved.
Stopping harmful behavior is a worthy goal. And since Jesus told stories, many authors want to tell stories to encourage readers from destructive activity. However, the parables Jesus told were meant to teach a lesson to an audience eager to learn from Him. Also, the stories were quite short. And effective.
The novelist has a different challenge. Perhaps the novelist wants to discourage abortion. The novelist decides to write an entire novel about the pitfalls of abortion. Granted, this is a complex, riveting topic; and there is more than enough material. Stories can take varying directions and still teach a lesson. Many’s the novel that includes abortion. Some deal with the emotional impact on the woman. Some visit the implications on the man. Others discuss, then dismiss, the act. Fill in the blank with any other topic, and it will apply.
The thing is, you might want to teach readers that a viewpoint or act is good, bad, or indifferent. But when the topic overtakes the story, you’re in trouble. Most novel readers seek entertainment. They don’t mind discovering nuggets along the way. However, no one reading a novel wants to be pummeled with ideologies or preached at. Even when the reader completely agrees with the novelist, most people will resent handing over their leisure time to a novelist telling them how to think or what to do. Rather, let the story speak for itself. Let the reader come away with, “Aha! Wow, that snuck up on me. Let me give that some thought.”
A clue? When beta readers start talking about your novel as the “abortion” novel or the “adoption” novel or the “alcoholism” novel, then ideology has overtaken the story. Very, very few publishers are in the market for overt issues novels. And even fewer readers want to read them.
What tips can you offer on keeping a novel that addresses significant issues from becoming a lesson instead of a story?
What book do you think does a great job addressing issues while keeping the story in the forefront?