Writers are humans. This means that writers are Republicans. They are Democrats. They are climate change skeptics, environmentalists, police commissioners, farmers, techies, actors, Christians, and Scientologists. All of these different frames of view serve to make someone’s art unique, rich, and set apart from the normal crowd.
After listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, it was apparent that a lot of her writing philosophy was informed by her great faith, and she uses that in both her work in fiction and non-fiction. Terry Pratchett was probably an atheist. Mr. Rogers was a minister. Ayn Rand had some notoriously strong political ideas in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. And as much as this diverse group of ideas can be a boon to you, I think it can also be a bane.
As has been explained to me by the lovely Tina Fey in Bossypants, comedy becomes less of comedy if you hit things too on the nose. The idea is that the illusion of that particular sketch being about President Obama is actually funnier than someone giving a stone-cold analysis of why it’s stupid that Fox News thinks Obama is a Muslim. And if you’re working in comedy, you want people to laugh.
I think we can apply this principle to writing fiction. Yes, things in fiction are supposed to reflect things in the real world, but I think books become supremely less enjoyable when the author has a point to prove. This is the difference between letting the audience decide what to think, and telling them.
It can be detrimental to your art to become too heavy-handed with your point for three reasons.
- Readers are smart people and they are well enough able to get a point without having it shoved down their throats.
- Writing is supposed to be about discovery for both the author AND the reader, and making your point too strongly leaves too much of you in the book for the reader to have space for themselves.
- If you try too hard to make your point, you will eventually violate the first law of art: Don’t be boring.
And I know that the author’s typical trepidation is that the audience may not get the point, but they will. They just might not get “your” point, and that’s okay, because books belong to their readers as well as to their authors.
And if you try so hard to curate their thoughts in the initial reading of your novel, there’s nothing stopping you from chasing down Larry from Idaho who left a comment at 3:57pm on Feb 15, 2009 under a trailer for your book saying that he thought it sucked.
And that’s got nothing to do with writing.
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