Today’s advice comes from those artists smarter than myself. I am of course referring to the Sterling and Stone podcast The Smarter Artist. This is a series of short episodes around five minute each about specific aspects of writing fiction and the writing mine said it’s also sometimes a very honest podcast and it is very straightforward.
What I mean by quite straightforward is that it’s not full of all the fun that is characteristic of Sterling and Stone’s main podcast The Self-Publishing podcast which is a must listen for anyone who well wants to self publish. It’s a show I’ve been listening to for awhile, but I know it won’t be to everyone’s taste.
But back to The Smarter Artist and the episode I wanted to share with you today, episode 371 called Why your Character Shouldn’t Stand on a Soapbox.
What Sean Platt is warning us against is having characters spurt out our opinions and thoughts, “ours” as in the writer’s opinions in a way that doesn’t sit right with the character. This can happen when as writers, we want to influence our readers because there is something that we want them to believe, or something we want to advocate for.
Of course, characters have opinions, but they’re not always going to be ours. If I’m writing a piece of fiction to explicitly communicate a thought, an idea, a warning, it turns a piece of fiction into one of non-fiction.
This is something I’m very aware of because I sometimes I come across this in novels, and it really jars. Suddenly you’re not listening to the characters any more, or following a story, but you’re just reading the author’s ideas. And in that moment, that whole story you are following, that whole world you immersed yourself in, it’s gone.
So this is not about not putting anything off yourself into the story, that’s impossible. Your writing comes out of you. Some of your world will come out of your imagination, you will create stuff you’ve never experienced directly and thought you’ve never had before. But your whole life experience will also slip into your writing, including your opinions on a range of themes and subjects. It’s how this appears in your story that either add to the reader’s experience or pull them away.
So something to look out for, especially if your novel is immersed in a theme about which you feel very strongly. And here’s the advice that Sean Platt has in episode 371 of The Smarter Artist podcast.
He talks about letting those social, political and religious beliefs emerge in an “organic way that is true to the character”.
Now, when you’re writing the first draft, he recommends not to worry about it at all, just get it all out, but be aware of when it’s happening. I suppose as part of developing as a writer, it’s one more thing we need to be aware of, almost like being aware that we use some words way too often. (As an aside here, wow, I noticed I want to use the word “just” again and again and again…)
Once you’ve written the first draft, leave a long time before you come back to it, to create as much distance as you can between you the creator, and you the reader. Then these moments where you can hear characters preaching in your own voice, rather than just voicing their opinions, will really stand out.
You can also give the draft to people you trust and get their opinion. They might pick up on characters that become too preachy.
So there you go, awareness, letting it all come out and THEN going back and seeing what needs to be reshaped. I suppose our characters become preachy through the dialogue, so this might be a specific part of your writing to look out for.
Is the dialogue there to move the story forward, to develop character or to pass on your ideas? If it’s just to pass on your ideas, then make sure it’s also moving the story forward or developing a character or a relationship between characters because if not you’re in trouble.
This is the script from the section on writing from episode 9 of Word Maze podcast. You can listen to the whole episode by clicking on the image at the top of the post.