Thursday, April 14, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Lessons

First of all, I just want to say hi, thanks and welcome to all the new bloggy friends. I hope that you all find some value in what I have to say. :-)

Then... just a warning, this post might be a tad controversial.

So... lessons.

I find them a lot when I watch animated movies or YA books.

They irritate the shit out of me.

I am not kidding. Lessons really bring out my dark side when I read, because I see it in more than one light. And none of them make it better. I'll highlight my main arguments.

I don't read to be preached at. I read to be entertained. I'm not ready or willing to have an opinion/lesson bashed into my head when I cannot reason with the person doing it. So... if it feels like a book is telling me: "This is the moral of the story, kids!" I will still finish it, but I will never touch a book by that author again. And I have a very. long. memory.

I believe that writers in serve an important function in society. We are the ones who take a step back, inspect everything we can about the humanity as it is in our time and comment on it. Yes, we can show what the world might become because of what we're doing to it now. We can show what it can be if we change. If we dig deep and follow our ideals. All of life lies within the writer's scope.

But do we stand as judges?


We stand as oracles. The people who can tell others what we see. The ones that suggest answers.

What the recipient does with those answers is his business. We have no right to bash him over the head with what we think is right or wrong. It is not our place.

Parents, teachers, preachers and are in the position required to teach.

We writers are in a position to make our readers think.

Force a lesson in and the entire function of the writer is undermined. Because a) the reader isn't left with a choice in his/her thoughts b) the readers who think beyond the story will ask why the other options can't work and will balk at being force fed the lesson.

In short, when I am getting a lesson bash while I read, I get irritated both as a reader and a writer.

So... that is how I feel about this. How do you feel?


  1. I agree. If a book has a message, it should come through without being laboured to death. If it's obvious the writer has an agenda it can be a) preachy, or b) feel like the author has no faith in the intelligence oftheir audience. Neither is good.

  2. True. If Papa doesn't preach, why should writers? Meh. That didn't work. Anyway, I hate being told what to do or how to think. People have to come to their own conclusions. Period.

  3. No one has ever made me believe something I didn't want to believe, once I reached the age of reason. So I don't have a problem with a lesson presented. It give me the opportunity to reexamine and solidify my beliefs.

    I'm just wondering why you would finish reading a book if you didn't like what it had to offer. I would close the cover and walk away.

  4. I like to read about other peoples opinions but I don't want to be lectured or that their way is the only way. I think for myself. :)

  5. What about Jane Austen? Wasn't she giving a lesson about 'pride' and 'prejudice'?

  6. I agree - some books have a natural message (I'd agree with Paula that Jane Austen was in favour of eliminating pride and prejudice) but it should be natural and organic. The story should come first, and if at the end, we are left thinking 'Wow, she definitely should have done this instead. . . ' it should be a natural consequence of the reading rather than an attempt to teach.

    Story is king. If lessons crop up naturally, fair enough, but shoehorning them in, or highlighting them is just not something I like.

  7. Oh, I agree with you and was soooo guilty of it till an editor pointed out my soapbox. Good post.

  8. Christine, I agree with you there. Lack of faith in the reader is an underestimation of their intelligence. In my book, that is pretty high up on my list of writing sins.

    Hehehe Samantha, I think it worked fine. ;-) I'm with you on the conclusions.

    Gail, I guess that's where we're different. I never use anyones standards but my own to solidify my own beliefs. If someone offers a different opinion, I inspect it at the hand of my own beliefs and decide whether I will adopt it. But if someone writes the equavalent of "YOU WILL DO THIS BECAUSE I SAY SO!!!" my immediate reaction is "Why? What makes you think that you're right and I'm not?" And that is why I hate lessons forced into stories. And as a writer, that annoys me, because I can see how the rest (at least most of) of the free thinking audience will have their minds snap closed as well... As to why I finish books I hate? I finish books I start even if it's a pain because how else do I become familiar to what I dislike? It becomes a how-not-to book for me.

    Thanks River. That was the short and sweet version of what I'm saying.

    Paula, I could answer you, but Ellen already did it so well...

    Ellen, thanks for rewording my convoluted arguments so well. :-)

  9. Well now. One of my and your favourite authors, Misha, Mr Clive Staples Lewis, was a master at bringing a lesson. And even forcing a lesson.

    I bring your attention to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. We are taught to respect our elders and to not take candy from the White Witch. Or, in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he teaches plainly that one should (please) not be an ass. And Lewis teaches that in no uncertain terms. And yet you do not feel like the lesson was unmerited, because all of us, at one point or another, take candy from the White Witch, so to speak. Most of us have the capability to be the utmost ass.

    I guess some writers just teach with more finesse than others. Since non of your delightful readers will (I hope) argue that CS Lewis is one of the masters. In writing and in teaching.

    One last point. All writers teach. If you want to or not. You will inevitable make your point, show your views and teach your creed. What matters is how you do it. Not if, but how. And, dear friend Misha, you do it well.

    Now I am done commenting for another bit. Since I hardly comment at all...

  10. Lessons don't bother me. What bugs me is when a writer spoon feeds you their belief while knocking another in a story. I believe there's lessons in every story to be learned or even just consider.

  11. Hehehe Theresa, "one should not (please) be an ass." That really reminds me of the book. ^_^ I agree that book teach our opinions and beliefs. But I refuse to let the reason be that I forced the reader to sit through a preaching. BTW you are, and will remain my favorite lurker in the world. ;-)

    Shelly, exactly, isn't the key to the whole matter to give the reader a choice between learning or just considering?

  12. I hate being preached at, and I hate preaching, at least in reading and writing, so I'm right there with you. That is not to say I've not learnt any lessons from books, only I didn't realize it at the time, so it is all good. :)

  13. Alas poor Aesop...

    I don't have a problem with lessons, morals, etc. As far as I know every story has at least one. The issue is, is it being taught overtly or covertly? Is the author doing the preaching, or is it the character?

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  15. Misha,

    I think you might be missing one important point. Although I don't like to be preached at, in younger fiction, some lessons of LIFE need to be learned. It is up to the writer to weave this into the story without being preachy. Especially with youth today, many parents are WAY to lax in their parenting skills or lack there of. IF there are no guidelines at home perhaps reading will give focus to younger readers who may not have it at home.

    I live in a city where teens and younger are killing, yes, killing their peers. It's tragic and such a waste of human lives. So perhaps if these youths were given books that taught them it's so wrong to do this, there might be less violence in the schools.

    Sorry, I don't mean to preach, it just hurts to see this in my city.
    April 14, 2011 5:10 PM Misha,

    I think you might be missing one important point. Although I don't like to be preached at, in younger fiction, some lessons of LIFE need to be learned. It is up to the writer to weave this into the story without being preachy. Especially with youth today, many parents are WAY to lax in their parenting skills or lack there of. IF there is now guidelines at home perhaps reading will give focus to younger readers who may not have it at home.

    I live in a city where teens and younger are killing, yes, killing their peers. It's tragic and such a waste of human lives. So perhaps if these youths were given books that taught them it's so wrong to do this, there might be less violence in the schools.

    Sorry, I don't mean to preach, it just hurts to see this in my city.
    April 14, 2011 5:10 PM

  16. I think life lessons are good! I can choose what I want to believe or adopt in my life, so it doesn't bother me. I know what you mean though. No one wants it shoved down their throat. An important message should subtly come through in the writing. It's easier said than done though! I think that's why I appreciate reading middle-grade novels even more now as an adult. I understand the nuances and subtle messages I didn't quite pick up as a child.

  17. So, the lesson here is that I shouldn't weave moral lessons into my writing? Screw that! Stop trying to preach to me! Jeez!

  18. Glad to hear, Damyanti. :-) I've also learned some things from reading. But not because someone pushed me to learn them.

    I agree, Bish. I think it didn't come over 100% right, but if something is brought over wisely and with sensitivity to the reader (and the fact that said reader is a teenager), it doesn't bother me all that much. My problem is force-feeding people what you want them to think.

    Michael, at the risk of greatly disappointing you, my point still stands. Those teens are dealing with life and death. They won't sit still to have the facts of right and wrong beaten into them by words. It is possible to show how devastating such a death can be to the family. Even show the humanity of the so-called enemy. Make them feel the pain being inflicted with every death. But don't TELL them what is right and what isn't. Don't you think that having the person feeling for those they kill is a much effective way than to just keep repeating that killing is wrong? Because the latter is what I have a problem with.

    Laura, I agree with you. Particularly the fact where you prefer a message woven through the script. That message is what we are there for. Lessons speak down to whoever is reading and telling them what the writer EXPECTS them to think from now on...

    Lol Nate. Actually. There is no moral lesson. I just wanted the people who read this to think for a bit. ;-P That's why I kept referring to me first.

  19. I agree - if I wanted a book full of lessons I'd read the Bible. But I find the Bible boring (and just a bit outdated) so I don't read it. I read stories that comment on life, and if they teach lessons it's woven into the narrative so they come to me naturally.

  20. I feel the same way about lessons that jump out at you like that. A book written around a moral isn't a story, it's a sermon and that's not why I read. That isn't to say that morals and lessons don't have their place and that one made part of the story is automatically terrible. But it isn't the way to teach people, young or old (you know what they say: actions speak louder than words).

  21. hmmmm... interesting lesson to think on. :)

  22. I agree completely. Thanks for the interesting post.

  23. You can invite people TO think. But you can not tell them WHAT to think. Excellent post.

  24. As long as the message is weaved into
    the story, its fine like most of our fairytales and mythology come with a set of moral lessons. No harm in that but pushing your sense of morality or ideals makes a book that less interesting...But I feel most of us are capable of making our own informed decisions, even when younger including avoiding such books in the future.

  25. A book is more of entertainment and needs closure most of the times as well, but what about short stories and poems. They pretty much always contain some sort of meaning or message and as the reader you either agree or disagree.

    I like blogs because this way you can actually argue with the writers. ^^
    Nahno ∗ McLein

  26. I read books for entertainment unless it is a cookbook or medical book and I am trying to learn something.

  27. I don't like to be bashed against the head, either. I have no problem with a book that has an opinion, but I think it should be subtle. The books I really enjoy are the ones that make me THINK. That present something to me in a way that gets my brain churning and I can see something in a new light because of how the book SPOKE to me, not because of what it TOLD me.

    And sometimes, I just want a book to entertain. To help me escape from the world.

  28. What I really don't like in the animated movies is the adult oriented one liners that the kids are not supposed to understand, so why put them in.

  29. Ex Cell Lent POST...LOL.

    To the authors who like to preach instead of entertain, I say, Shut up and Sing.

    Great blog :)

  30. Eff to the freaking yes!

    Down with preaching. If a book is written well enough you'll pick up a lesson without feeling like you're being taught it and might not even be a lesson the author is aware of. Like how C.S. Lewis taught me not to close the closest all the way when I go hunting for the other shoe.

  31. Well, I chose a good day to visit a new blog ---
    Being an English teacher of young adults for a long time, I can guess why you see so many lessons that are beat over your head in YA books. The books are for young teenagers. Trust me, if the writer didn't express the lesson over and over, the young reader wouldn't get it.
    Maybe I generalize a bit, but not much.
    Look at Mockingjay, the third book of the Hunger Games Trilogy. If the reader doesn't get that war is bad by the end of the book, I don't know what to tell you. I did feel preached at a bit, but I had to realize that Collins didn't write the book for a 55 year-old adult. She wrote it for 15 year-old teenager.
    The same with animated movies -- for kids. Kids don't have the brain power yet to think figuratively, so the lesson has to be stated or they won't get it at all.
    You have to remember that children don't have their principles sorted out yet. Hence, their movies and books have lessons.

    I hope that I have given you the other side of the coin. You still might not like the messages, but now you know why they are there.

    MM the Queen of English

  32. new to your blog. And thanks for following mine. Agree: trust the reader, whatever the age. "Goodnight Moon" didn't tell my son [when he was so little, sigh] "feel safe." It just made him feel safe. I believe in: trust thy reader. JF

  33. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I loathe being preached to, particularly when I'm attempting to enjoy a book. I don't even like my daughter to have books that blatantly teach a lesson. I was given a book for her titled "Hands are Not for Hitting". I quickly passed that on to someone else.

  34. Excellent post! I think writers should raise questions, not give answers.

  35. Thought-provoking post and comments here. I appreciate those who point out that some children's or YA fiction needs a bit more forthrightness of the moral because 1) some people don't think figuratively at that age and 2) some parents aren't doing the job of telling the kids right from wrong. (Morality doesn't come naturally. AFter all, do you have to teach a kid how to lie?)

    As for the Bible, there is not a better written book in the world. For plot, character, diaologue, theme, and anything else you want to study, read Genesis. I've not found anything comparable.

  36. I've seen this in writing books before - never to preach at your readers. Be subtle and let them figure out the "lesson" if there is one...on their own. Thanks for the follow - your blog is great!

  37. I agree with what you say. I think that all books have some kind of message but it shouldn't hit us over the head. Instead the message should quietly enter our mind and converse with us and leave us options to make up our own mind. Entertainment in literature should be the priority. The message should be the bonus that we can accept or reject or for that matter never even notice.

    Tossing It Out

  38. I think that if it's blatantly obvious that it's the author who is force-feeding his/her readres, it can become quite annoying, but when it comes from a character, there's no problem :)

    Duncan In Kuantan

  39. There's a difference between being preached to and having some killer thought provoking philosphy thrown at you. I just finished reading the Hugo winning "Starship Troopers" by Robert Heinlein again, and he's definitely controversial with his political philosophy. But I like books that make me think. I don't have to agree, but I like when they make me step back and look differently at my position on an issue. "The Way of Kings" by Brandon Sanderson (epic fantasy) is incredible at it.

  40. You are right. First rule of writing, show don't tell.

  41. To me, it depends on how the lesson is being portrayed. I don't want someone to just sit there and preach to me about something, but, will accept it in other less in your face ways.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and following! Following you back!

  42. Hi Misha! I wanted to give you a blog award. Please come by my site to see it! :)

    Have a great weekend!

  43. I am So with you on this! Well, unless its a book like "Lolita" or a book that is written so well that the lesson isn't thrown in your face; it's just part of the natural course of events. But yes, only Aesop is allowed to tell me the moral of the story.

  44. Hehehe Rebecca, I experience the Bible to be differently. The thing about it is that it's supposed to be about lessons, so that's ok for me. ;-)

    Good point JE, if the story is written in such a way that the characters illustrate a message, it's very different to trying to make me sit through a sermon.

    Loki, glad to hear you're intending to ponder it, although it wasn't really intended as a lesson. That would be beyond my tolerance for hypocrisy. ;-)

    Thanks Jack. I'm glad you like it.

    Great way to sum it up Nicole! Thanks! :-)

    Rekha I agree with you completely.

    Nahno hehehe I like blogs for the exact same reason. I have no problem with a message, as it still gives me the option whether I want to incorporate it into my beliefs/opinions/actions.

    Ruth, I feel you on this one. ^_^

    Jessica, I think you hit the nail on the head. Speaking with vs. talking to is the essence of why I hate lessons. Because they talk to me (usually down at me).

    Heeeehee Tony, for the adults, of course. Because I would hate taking my child to the cinema to watch a movie that I just didn't enjoy... I love those one liners. But then I am rather twisted. ;-P

    Thanks so much, Huntress! :-D

    Hehehe Steph, my second CS Lewis reference. ^_^ I agree, if there's a message to the story, I can adopt it if I want or I can acknowledge it and move on. Like you said, it should hardly even be noticed. But if I have to fight the moral, I'm noticing. I'm seeing the writer and that is another reason why I want to punch him/her when I read.

    MM, the Hunger Games is an example for what I meant too. She showed how war was a bad thing. AND DID SHE DO IT WELL... Point is, at no point does she have Katniss say: "WAR IS BAD. DON'T DO IT." Let alone repeating it until I got a headache. I also think that you might underestimate teenagers. I'm not long out of my teenage years, so I remember fondly all the lessons people tried to force onto me and how I nodded, smiled and went on to ignore everything they said. Unless I already knew they were right. In which case it's useless preaching to the choir anyway...

    JF that is so important. In fact, that is probably my number one rule when I write. Because I HAAAAAATE it when I read a book where my intelligence is underestimated. Another reason why I hate forced lessons.

    Caitlin I hate that too. Usually all I can think about is how much better the message would have been if it was handled differently.

    So true, Friday!

    Zoanna, I still think my point stands because: 1) One can put a message into a book without making it figurative and without passing judgement one way or the other. 2) What parents tell their children is not our business. It isn't our place to teach anything except how to THINK. If you tell people what to think, how will they learn that lesson? For example, we can teach them to think about how lying might hurt the person being lied to. Hopefully that will stop at least some of the lying. But if my work keeps screaming DON'T LIE YOU STUPID CHILD!!! I think we both know that child won't listen - even if only to prove a point.

    I agree with you about Genesis. It's astoundingly well written. ^_^

    Thanks Kathee. You put my point across well. :-)

    Lee, that is a good way to see it. Message as a bonus after entertainment.

    Duncan, it stays annoying even when it comes from the character. Because my mind immediately snaps to that and thinks: Hey wait... that's not the character. That's an author using a moral as a blunt weapon.

    I agree with you Donna. I love having my thoughts provoked and challenged. It helps me to explore parts of me that I never saw before. But preaching does the complete opposite. It shuts me down on the idea completely.

    Hehehe Tony, nicely put. ^_^

    Hootie, I'm the same. For me that's the difference between lesson and message.

    Thanks so much, Charmalot!

    Erin I agree with you about Aesop. :-)

  45. Yes, we're definitely not a culture who enjoys the Aesop's kind of moralizing--we don't like to be told what to do. LOL I agree; don't hit the reader over the head with themes or points. That IS way annoying! A good caution when writing.


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