Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lessons? Stories?

Lessons are often a part of the discussion about children's and YA literature. What lessons are we teaching? Which characters are role models? What's the moral of the story?

Not everyone agrees that this literature must be lesson-driven. Sarah Ockler writes: "... the purpose of young adult fiction is singular: to tell a story. Period. Learning lessons and adjusting moral compasses might be an outcome of the reading, but that’s entirely up to the reader." Also, "We create to share stories and make real human connections to universal truths and experiences, not to teach finger-wagging lessons."

I've been getting more and more uncomfortable with the "role-model" school of thought. My characters are not paragons of virtue; nor are they villains who are duly punished. They are not always likable or admirable. They make mistakes, they suffer, they learn things. Not every character receives a reward or punishment for every action. The "good" guys have flaws and the "bad" guys have saving graces. In these respects, I try to create fictional worlds that resemble the real one.

So what am I doing, if not trying to teach lessons? I think I am just trying to express something that rings true to me, that I hope will ring true for many readers. I'm highlighting some part of human experience, trying to bring it into sharper focus, to show it from certain angles. To encourage people to think about it. I've long said that I'm more of a descriptive writer ("this is the way things often are") than a prescriptive writer ("this is the way things should be").

This is a crazy world we live in. I'm just trying to make some sense of it, in my own small way.

4 comments:

  1. Bravo! I think YA and MG writers' work is most prone to this kind of examination because I think people conceive the audience as still needing "teaching."

    "I'm highlighting some part of human experience, trying to bring it into sharper focus, to show it from certain angles. To encourage people to think about it." - This. I love this!

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  2. I prefer reading descriptive writing. Nothing against prescriptive writing (I read that too), but sometimes when I'm reading a book that's obviously prescriptive writing, I feel that the author is trying hard to appease their readers, they're careful not to offend, and they're not telling an honest story. I prefer an honest story.

    There's a lot of content online about all the ways authors can get it wrong with the way they portray and represent their characters. I don't agree with everything that's out there.

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    1. It's true--there are so many different voices and experiences that what one reader finds to be inauthentic, another will embrace, and so on.

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