I’m beginning to understand why Anne McCaffrey took to only mentioning her horses and leaving out her successful career as a novelist whenever a stranger would ask what she does for a living.
When someone finds out I write fiction, one or two things invariably happen. First, they look at me and, not all but most, assume since I’m a woman and mother I must either write romance novels or children’s books. I’ll admit to adding a bit of romance now and again if the story calls for it, but I’ve never written a story centering on a love affair. I have no plans to in the future either. It’s just not me, and although I am enamored of my girls and very fond of children in general, that’s not me either. I’ve tried writing for children and teens, and it doesn’t work.
The second thing that happens is the person launches into their idea for a book. Nine times out of ten, the ideas for children’s books aren’t story ideas at all but a lesson the person feels children need to be taught. It happens less often when the book idea is meant for an audience above the age of fifteen, but there still seems to be this impulse to push one’s ideas through like mixing medicine with ice cream.
Hiding medicine in ice cream doesn’t work if you use one part ice cream to five parts medicine. If the whole story centers on the lesson, the fact you’re trying to cram your ideals down the reader’s throat is painfully obvious. It can be insulting to any age group, and your reader is likely to either push the bowl away entirely or choke on the contents.
Literature, no matter the audience, is art and therefore open to interpretation. The lesson you so ardently try to teach may not be received full and whole. Your reader may overlook your pet lesson and take something completely different away from the story, and that’s okay. Isn’t one of the most beautiful things about art the fact it can speak to us one way today and another a year from now?
To the writers out there and those of you thinking about learning the craft, don’t waste time focusing on a lesson just to forget the story. Develop the story. Make it have meaning to you. The rest will take care of its own.
Stories may make for good lessons, but lessons don’t make good stories.
* Originally published May 10, 2008.
A. B. England is a small business owner, home-schooling mom, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves fantasy, mythology, and all flavors of science fiction.
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