People have suggested many times that I teach classes on fiction writing, either on my own or in an educational setting, such as at a college or community college. I’ve considered doing that, but I’ve never taken the plunge. Why not?
Well, several reasons, perhaps, but the biggest may be this: I’m a very non-traditional fiction writer. If you were to attend a traditional class or seminar on fiction writing, you would be schooled in all of its critical elements. You’d learn about plot and story structure, and character development, and all the other great things that help make the stories we love—whether in written form or in screen form—the stories we love. Gone with the Wind, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings could only be made by people who knew what it took to tell a great story.
If, at this fiction writing seminar, you sat around in a bull session with some authors and some wanna-be authors, you’d hear a lot of talk about the elements of a great story. All of which are important and which I try to incorporate into my own stories.
But I’m kind of a fiction writer heretic, because I’ve never considered the story to be primary in my writing. Rather, I consider the message to be primary. The story is a vehicle (an engaging and entertaining one, I hope) for the message.
All the fiction writing books will tell you that YOU CAN’T WRITE FICTION THAT WAY. That is, if the story is self-evidently just a diatribe advocating the author’s own political, or religious, or whatever point of view, the reader will tune out. No one wants to be lectured to.
I understand that sentiment, and to a certain degree I try to accommodate its wisdom in my writing. People truly don’t want to be lectured to. They want to be engaged and entertained. So I always try to write stories that will engage and entertain. But for me, the message is primary. Because I also believe that there are a lot of readers out there who like to be challenged. They like to be challenged in their thinking. They like to learn new things. They like to be presented with different ways of thinking about reality. They like to have to think about what they believe, and why they believe it.
That’s why I write. I don’t write to lecture and have someone swallow my point of view hook, line, and sinker. Rather, I write to engage people’s minds with a story (usually, through dialogue) that makes them think, that makes them ponder their own point of view, that makes them consider anew their own belief system. If I can write a story that accomplishes that, and at the same time keeps the reader wanting to turn the page, then I have, in my own mind, succeeded.
It’s a different way of looking at fiction, and not many authors do it, but a number have succeeded at it. William P. Young sold a few copies of The Shack. Andy Andrews has sold a few copies of his books like The Traveler’s Gift. C.S. Lewis sold a few copies of The Great Divorce. I sold a few copies of my book Dinner with a Perfect Stranger and its sequels.
I’ll keep writing this way, and if you are reading this blog because you’ve enjoyed one of my books, apparently you’ve liked reading this way! If so, thanks for investing your time in fiction that may not be traditional, but I hope is at the very least thought provoking and inspirational.
– David Gregory