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Opinions on didactic writing : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Opinions on didactic writing

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
NicolasFDees
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Opinions on didactic writing

Postby NicolasFDees » Wed Feb 01, 2017 4:21 am

Another user commented on a critique I had referencing that my selection I posted was a bit didactic and it left me lost in a tangent the whole rest of the night.

I can understand the disdain for a main plot that revolves solely around a moral message alone. However, morality is so subjective it seems like it's a topic that is always relevant regardless of the era because it's always changing and therefore always a new source for creative story writing.

I guess my question would be, why is didactic writing so frowned upon by modern day writers?

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robjvargas
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Re: Opinions on didactic writing

Postby robjvargas » Wed Feb 01, 2017 10:48 am

In my opinion, unless you're writing for an audience that already believes the message you're trying to portray, didact doesn't sell. It's as simple as that.

Dan Brown sells theological conspiracies pretty well. But preaching within a story? Not so much.

People don't enjoy being instructed what to believe, or how. At least not within fiction.

Such is my distinctly non-scientific opinion.
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cynicalwanderer
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Re: Opinions on didactic writing

Postby cynicalwanderer » Thu Feb 02, 2017 5:30 am

There's no problem with having a moral message in a story; what can be a problem is if it's told rather than shown. By that I mean things like characters with too much author intrusion into their internal thoughts, musing on for pages about the beauty of this or that high-concept message, when really they should be getting on with business. The issue with too much of that sort of writing is that the story drifts away from the context of the characters and plot, the relationships and so on that the average reader came here for. The average reader will listen to moral messages, but only as a secondary interest to being told a ripping yarn first and foremost; they're here for the meat, and nobody likes to be force-fed their vegetables. So as a writer, sure, you can have philosophising sections or deeply-felt poetic descriptions, you can even get up on your soapbox for a time with whatever politically correct message you're desperate to impart to the world - but do it all subtly, through the events of the plot unfolding, and the characters coming indirectly to these conclusions through a "coming of age" story structure or whatever, and avoid preaching your authorial voice directly and in an out-of-character way through your character's mouths.

I didn't see your original post before, but I've taken a quick look at it now.

With every twist and turn of the road on his way to Leavenworth, Beau Williams bore witness to the very breath of life. It’s difficult on mornings like these to not get lost in the majesty of the world that surrounds. In it, is such an incomprehensible beauty coupled with a complexity so vast, he couldn't help but spend his drive contemplating the wisdom of its master craftsman.

The first sentence there is fine. But in the second and third, you've jumped outside of Beau's POV and gone for a direct authorial statement of poetical whimsy. That's the crime of telling, and is why it perhaps comes across as didactic. We aren't seeing the world coloured through Beau's eyes anymore, and the immersion in the story takes an ever so slight hit of damage.

Later in the excerpt, you describe the grass and forest and so on, with some quite good pieces of description. My advice would be to bring some of that back, and reframe it into your character's POV. Replace the authorial voice with your character seeing the grass, and marvelling at it's incomprehensible beauty. And there you have it: you've worked in the message you wanted, but under the auspices of being relevant to either character development or plot progression. The forest description - again seen through Beau's POV - might then let you slip in the line about vast complexity, and so on. Lastly, I spotted that your character is heading to Leavenworth, by which I assume he is seeing someone at the prison there. That's a pretty dark place, and a contrast to all the splendours of nature the character is passing through, so it seems to me there is an opportunity there to also add in a "hook" - a little ominous reference to spark the reader's curiosity. Something like, have your poetic paragraph about the beauty of it all, but then ground it back to the character and the plot, with a reference to it "distracting him from the grim duty that lay ahead at the end of his journey" or something like that.

Do you see how things can be adjusted to work more naturally coming through the plot and characters? At any rate, my point here is - you have some decent raw material and messages, but you need to learn how to scatter them more subtly throughout the piece while always remembering that Story Comes First. The reader will tolerate the occasional lectures as long as they're sparsely used, don't take away from the main story, and are handled unobtrusively and without breaking POV.

Hope that helps.
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Alyosha
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Re: Opinions on didactic writing

Postby Alyosha » Thu Feb 16, 2017 6:14 pm



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