Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Why Books Shouldn't Become Lectures


I recently read a dystopian short novel and although I won’t name it, I wanted to focus on a point which aggravated me whilst reading it. That point being how at times it began to stray into lecture territory, which let’s be honest, no reader likes to face. 

It’s easy to see how dystopia lends itself to lecturing. Human beings have destroyed the Earth in a nuclear apocalypse, oh the flaws of humanity! Dystopian fiction inherently highlights the problems and weaknesses of humanity; it is very likely that at some point, there is going to be subtle message about the dangers of humanity lurking in said novel.

However, the key word here is subtle. I’m all for denoting humanity’s flaws. Bring it on. I think it’s better to recognise our flaws so that we can solve them instead of avoiding reality. But that doesn’t mean I need to be bashed around the head with it. 

Another point to make is that this book was YA. The main characters – there were three, each with their own part – ranged from 15 to 17. But in a way this makes the lecture feel even more insulting. Teenagers are not stupid, nor do they lack depth. They are perceptive; they have a good understanding of the world around them; and the chances are if they’re drawn to dystopia they probably are even more aware of these things than most teenagers would be. 

So there does not need to be a lecture. There does not need to be a message made so starkly clear that it makes any reader feel patronised or belittled. Because honestly, that’s what it made me feel like, and no reader should be made to feel that way. Readers are smart people. Readers are nice, lovely people. Don’t make them feel bad, or they will put down your book and they won’t invest in anything else you write. 

Additionally, probably one of the most important points when it comes down to examining an author’s craft: the lecture jarred me from the story. Instead of being immersed in this dystopian world, I was forced to take a step back and look at this book, thinking why does this sound like a lecture? If you want to include a message or moral in your writing, by all means go for it. But be subtle. Interweave it into your narrative and plot. Don’t stick it in, unsubtly masquerading as dialogue, when most people (if not all) would recognise that these are simply the author’s words prattling on about the state of the world. Put very simply, it was bad writing. 

An example of a book I will cite as doing this is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. There is genuinely one chapter dedicated to a lecture on the virtues of capitalism and the evils of communist principles working in American society – 60 pages of lecture. But at least Rand bothered to make this part of the plot. This was the big reveal, the big climax – it was embedded in the narrative. While I have to say that Rand’s lecture was far too long, at least it was better executed than said book I read a few days ago. 

So my point is this: don’t fall into a lecture. If you have a point you want to make then make it. But at least be subtle about it. You owe it to your readers – many of whom will have gone and paid money for said book (thankfully I borrowed this book from a friend) – not to make them feel betrayed. That may seem a strange word to use, but I think it is betrayal. People buy books for the sake of entertainment and escapism. If we wanted to be lectured at in a way that makes us feel small and belittled, we wouldn’t be reading a book in the first place. 

Have you ever found a lecture in anything you’ve read? Or, conversely, do you like to include messages and morals in your stories?

2 comments:

  1. I don't have a problem with a message or a moral in a story, but I agree that it must be executed properly, not just thrown in there. If it jars me out of the story, it's not well done, and yes, a reader would feel "betrayed" by the author.

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    1. I agree. It should be real life obligations that pulls a reader away from a book, not something contained in the book itself! Lectures of this kind are simply unncessary I think.

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