James Scott Bell is with us today! Jim is an award-winning thriller writer and the author of the #1 bestseller Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish. His latest release is Just Write: Creating Unforgettable Fiction and a Rewarding Writing Life (Writer’s Digest Books). Jim is also co-creator of the interactive writing app Knockout Novel. He has taught writing at Pepperdine University and at workshops in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, though he always likes coming home to L.A. where he can enjoy an authentic street dog. You can keep up with his new books and deals here.
How to Weave a Message Without Pummeling Your Readers
Got an email the other day asking for advice on how to weave a “message” into a novel without sounding “preachy.” I immediately thought of the quote variously attributed to Samuel Goldwyn, Moss Hart, Ernest Hemingway and Frank Capra: “If you want to send a message, try Western Union.” (Note: It’s too cogent for Goldwyn. The best evidence gives it to Hart).
Translation, of course, is that audiences don’t want a sermon, they want a story. They’re not looking for a lecture, but a fictive dream. If they sense an author intruding, they’re liable to become a reader excluding … your next book.
Some writers ask, does my story need to have a message (or theme) at all?
Answer: It will have one whether you like it or not. Every story leaves the readers with an impression that the author has presented a view of the world, a slant on life. The only question is whether you want to be intentional about it.
Note, however, that you don’t have to know what your message is from the jump. You pantsers will love hearing that. You like to write, in part, to discover. Fine. But when you finish that first draft, start asking yourself what message is in there trying to get out. Then you can use the tools of craft to deliver it in a way that is natural, unobtrusive, organic.
In answer to my correspondent I found myself writing in aphorisms. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’d just been on Twitter. Or possibly because my favorite philosopher is Pascal. In any event, here’s what I wrote: [Read more…]