5 ways to temper the preachy in your plot #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

5 ways to temper the preachy in your plot #amwriting #writingtips #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

We all have issues we care about, and anyone who tells you novels shouldn’t have agendas hasn’t read any lately. But how do we as authors plot issues into our manuscripts without coming off as preachy and one-sided?

Here are five ways to prevent “preachy” from showing up in your future book reviews.

  1. Present the issue without your character having an agenda: say your genre is mystery, and your issue-du-jour is forest clearcutting. Instead of making your detective an eco-warrior, consider using a clearcut forest as a setting, as the scene of the crime. Your issue is subconsciously in the mind of your reader, with the ominous ambiance of fallen nests, the terrain of stumps and sawdust devoid of the sounds of animal life that once thrived there, but your characters aren’t barking about the unfairness of the ecological crime; they’re focused on the one perpetrated with a bloodied tree chipper.
  2. Balance the argument externally: If your main character is anti-nuclear facilities, have another character challenge them with the opposing viewpoint in an intelligent way. And do your research for both sides of the argument. Think about it this way: in order for someone to take an educated stance on an issue, they need to understand both sides of the argument. If you only present one side, you’re not giving readers all the information they need to make a decision. And isn’t that what society is crying for? Discussion? Give readers the debate that you think should be taking place in real life.
  3. Balance the argument internally: either your character is undecided on an issue, or they are firmly on the pro or con side, and we see their character arc to the opposite end of the spectrum. Either way, there is opportunity via the character’s internal monologue to explore the opposing sides of an issue in a balanced way. At the beginning of your novel, if your character is anti-assisted suicide, help the reader to understand why. If the character just thinks it sucks, but then a grandparent develops ALS, and they arc to the pro side, the con argument at the beginning of the story doesn’t balance with the pro argument, which is given more screen time throughout the remainder of the manuscript.
  4. Turn your issue into a red herring: there’s a pipeline spill in my current manuscript, and when contractors are fixing the problem, they discover a body buried beneath the track of burst pipeline. The assumption is that it’s been there since the pipeline was originally laid years prior. Logically, readers will add the pipeline company (or someone associated with the pipeline company) to their list of suspects, and only when I reveal the actual murderer, do 5 ways to temper the preachy in your plot #amwriting #writingtips #plottingthey realize the pipeline company had nothing to do with the crime. See what I did there?
  5. Make that unlikable character likable for other reasons: in my first novel (the practice one), my YA protagonist was an in-your-face environmentalist. In the original iteration of my first chapter, she wasn’t as likable to as many beta readers as she could have been. The young activisty beta readers wanted to high five her, but others thought she was flawed. I needed all my readers to be rooting for her before I introduced the parts of her personality that were less likable to the majority of readers. This can be accomplished via a “save the cat” moment, or by first portraying the parts of your character’s personality that are easier to empathize with.

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.

What do you think is a good approach to issue-based fiction writing? Have you tried something that I haven’t thought about yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Chat me up in the comments.

65 thoughts on “5 ways to temper the preachy in your plot #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. Great advice 🙂 There’s a fine line between using an issue as a plot device and being preachy – I’m currently rewriting a novel and I’ve found that showing both sides of the argument and using the issue as setting is working nicely (I no longer want to beat my head against table).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like your idea in point number 1: if you’ve got a strong opinion, then your subconscious is going to tint the setting according to your views, so you don’t really have to try to do it consciously! It makes a lot of sense, and I hadn’t thought about it that way before.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great list! I’ve recently read a book where the heroine was All About The Issue in a way which made Erin Brockovich seem like a disinterested lightweight. I couldn’t like the character even though I agreed with her stance, and that made it impossible for me to enjoy the novel. I wish the author had read your list …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very valuable advice, especially for rebel authors. Since I make sure to put in hefty dose of feminism in my books and have started working in intersectionality, I can definitely use it 😀
    And I really liked how you sneaked in a whole bunch of your preferred issues throughout the post. Nice bit of peppering there 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! I spent a great deal of time in my revisions to make sure the main characters’ point of view are challenged and nothing comes easily. These are great points.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. These are some great tips 🙂
    I find with fantasy and sci-fi, avoiding being preachy is easier. I can hide real world issues under fantasy ones that have similar themes. The message is there, but it’s not directly about the topic!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I haven’t been accused of being preachy before–perhaps because I write alternate world fantasy, and the issues are similar but very far removed from our world–but these are definitely great tips!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Excellent thoughts. I like to bring out themes and ideas in an organic way, as they appertain to a character’s core values. And actions always speak louder than words, so showing the character’s feelings through how they react to their environments seems to work best for me–but that’s partially because of the genres I write.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s great, thank you! He makes a lot of sense, I’m now thinking about my WIP and how to make my MC relatable and likeable early on… 😃


  9. Some good advice here and a lot to think on! I am going to have to pay attention to this in the books I read to see if I pick up how authors are handling this and if they do it well!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good advice. I’m writing a poly romance and I’ve been struggling with a characters change of view through the story. I don’t want to it be Mary Sue but I also don’t want it to be angsty. Now I have a great lens to see it through. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Love this article. I don’t like reading preachy prose, so it’s good to be remained not to write it. I actually have a “save the cat” moment in my second novel. A fire fighter puts a kitten in his pocket when in a burning building. I little to that that character is likable for other reasons, but after reading your post, I know this helps, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi!I I love this. I just read a story that I felt was totally preaching at me, and it turned me off. I want to make sure I never do that 🙂
    <a href= “https://lesliehauser.com/author-toolbox-blog-hop-3/Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Number #4 is *very* clever. Gotta say, preachiness in books kills me- but this is really excellent advice. I think one of the worst things that people do is to strawman the other side of the debate in books- which ends up as coming across as very silly and like the author doesn’t know the counter argument- so #2 and #3 are so important. (Also, I should probably clarify that when I say preachiness I don’t mean the author being passionate about something or having a moral) Very interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Excellent suggestions, Raimey. I am also impressed by your examples. I almost want to switch genres so I can try it out in my own writing. (Okay, maybe not. There are a lot of issues I can address even in a fantasy setting.) After reading this, I can’t wait to get started.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Taking a step back, I like that fiction can tackle real-life issues 🙂 Some people say what’s to learn from reading fictional books? I would say, plenty! And your red herring tip is a good one too!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Wow! Love it — reminds me of when my son did debate team in high school and the coach insisted that they know their issue so well that they could provide informed, passionate arguments for either point of view. It took some doing, but the kids pulled it off. PRODIGAL SUMMER by Barbara Kingsolver is wonderfully nuanced and takes multiple perspectives on an issue that she cares about deeply.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I definitely think you’re right about balancing, either within the character or within the cast. In some ways it reminds me of something I read by Brandon Sanderson, discussing how he developed a tripod of attributes for any magic system, and believed that the key to a good magic system was in making sure at least one of the attributes created some kind of obstacle or price for implementing the magic effectively.
    Similarly I think any conflict driven decision necessitates something that makes the choice “not easy”, whether it’s a price, risk, or moral uncertainty.

    Liked by 1 person

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