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Annotation + #4

New Annotation: Mistborn Chapter Thirty-Four Part One

Well, the creative writing class I teach is over (save for the final, where we’ll be watching a RiffTrax version of Battlefield Earth.) I’m back to being a full-time writer until next January. That doesn’t mean much for you, save that I’ll probably be able to start doing Thursday blog posts again.

For today, I figured I’d throw up another of my current top ten list.

Ten Elements of Bad Storytelling (that we all use)

#4: Personal Hobby Horses and Heavy-Handed Messages

This number is ironic for a couple of reasons. First off, Tage just started a thread over at my forums about a similar topic. He couldn’t have known that I’d compiled this list weeks ago–I guess it’s just good timing.

The other reason this item is ironic is because this–talking about not putting heavy-handed messages into stories–is a personal hobby-horse of my own. It’s okay, though. I’m a professional. (And, of course, these articles are commentary, not fiction. … I guess that last part is debatable.)

Regardless, messages. Some authors, whom I respect, believe that fiction is THE place for didactic messages. Stories are one of the best places to prove a point, in their opinion. I don’t necessarily disagree. However, I think that said messages UNDERMINE the storytelling of the story. And so, while stories might make an excellent vehicle for rhetoric, I think rhetoric can destroy the integrity of a story.

I guess it comes down to your goals. My goal is not to teach, but to tell a good story.

However, like all the numbers on this list, I picked this item because I myself have trouble following my own advice in this area. The truth is, as a writer, when a theme confronts you in the face, you can’t HELP but want to bring it out and emphasize it. Bad storytelling or not.

A good example of this are the Alcatraz books I’ll be releasing soon. These are intended to be pure fun, stories about a somewhat silly world, with silly magic, and a snarky first-person narrator. However, as I developed that character, I couldn’t help but push a few of my own personal political messages. (Such as, for instance, my desire to champion the fantasy genre against the forces of literary fiction.)

The Liar of Partinel, one of the books I’m working on for Tor, is partially about the concept of a the value of storytelling in society. I can’t help but include these things, since they’re so important to me. However, the danger here is to let the theme become more important than the characters. When that happens, you have dangers of having straw men (which brings us back to #7 on my list) and of ruining your story.

So, my suggestion is to keep theme in check. I doubt you’ll be able to cut it out of your writing all together, and I also doubt that I should suggest you try to do so. However, letting theme and message become more important to you than telling a good story is a flaw that I think the pro writers dabble in far too often. And so, this is number four on the list.

We’ll start into the top three next week! Have a great weekend, everybody.

|   Castellano