Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

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Caveat Lector
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Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#1 Post by Caveat Lector » Thu Oct 17, 2013 10:43 pm

When writing about an issue you care about, and feel a lot of fiery passion for, how do you draw the line between "educating people" and "being preachy"? When does something that's intended to bring a certain issue to light cease to feel like a genuine attempt to educate people, and more like someone dropping as many ACME anvils on the viewer/reader's head as possible?

I ask mainly because I'm still in the early stages of planning out a potential project, and it's a hot button issue for me--to be more specific, there's one aspect of the issue that sets me off and makes me angry, and I want to explain why this attitude is NOT okay. The thing is, though, I want to find a way to have my message reach out to a broader audience without alienating people and make them feel like they're being preached at. The nature of the message alone will inevitably offend some people, so I don't care too much about THAT. What I want is for people to recognize when this attitude occurs and realize it's not okay. But look at other Anvilicious stories: The problem isn't that the message is bad or that the creators' intentions were bad. The problem is that the writers assume everyone going into it knows absolutely nothing about the issue, and feel the need to hammer their point home over and over until the viewer/reader is guilt-tripped into stopping whatever it is they're not supposed to be doing, but it's because of this approach that the viewer/reader instead gets annoyed with the borderline-self-righteous tone and ends up dismissing it.

Then again, what about Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped? When is being Anvilicious a good thing?

(For anyone who's curious, this certain aspect is basically a "tolerance paradox" / "faux tolerance" issue)
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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#2 Post by Kjata » Fri Oct 18, 2013 12:51 am

To educate a person an audience about a certain issue is to make them aware of the issue, including aspects of the issue which they were unaware of. To preach to a person is to try and insist that your opinion on the issue is definitively correct. You can avoid being preachy by showing the entire spectrum of the issue and not forcing your opinion onto the reader.

If you believe your opinions or something are definitively correct, that you cannot educate someone, you can only preach. To educate someone you must first understand their perspective and understand why they have that perspective. If I wanted to educate someone about a certain issue, you must try and see why they have their opinion on the issue. Very often, this is because they are not aware of the full issue, thus to educate them you can demonstrate the full issue (without stating your opinion on the issue is correct). They can then be left to make an opinion on the issue for themselves.

For example, let us consider the following issue -

In certain cultures in the world parents kill their daughters. Now I feel this extremely wrong, but I can understand why it is done. An example of a movie which educates people to why female infanticide is wrong is the Bollywood movie Matrubhoomi. This movie never states that the action is wrong but it demonstrates the long term consequences of the action, namely a society which cannot progress because of a lack of women.

I would consider the distinction between preaching and educating as follows. Preaching is stating your opinion is correct, educating is allowing the viewer to come to the conclusion that a certain opinion is correct (without explicitly stating it).

I hope this has helped.

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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#3 Post by trooper6 » Fri Oct 18, 2013 1:43 am

Well...in some ways the line between educating and preaching is if you do it well.

The standard advice is "show, don't tell"--but...I also think about the great preachers, the great fiery orators. Martin Luther King Jr preached...but many people loved his speeches, because he did them well...really, really well. No one really dismissed MLK Jr by saying, "Your I have a dream speech was so preachy!" Sure it was! That was the point! And it ended up being really effective.

Anyhow, I think there are a lot of different ways to do your art...and different ways to incorporate activism/politics into your art. I think it is central to know who your audience is and what you want to achieve. Do you want to provide a positive representation...for whom? For the underrepresented person? For those who may hold stereotypes about the underrepresented person? Do you want to speak to the bullies or the bullied? Because that will completely change how you do your art.

And really...if you want my advice...and I say this as a professor who educates people for a living--often on tricky topics like race, sexuality, and gender--educating vs preaching is the wrong question. The question is about communication and effectiveness. Are you communicating effectively? To whom are you communicating? How far can you push for that particular audience? Different audiences need different things. Different audiences can handle different things. Different audiences need different approaches. You can't be all things to all people. Decide what you want to do...what effect you want to have on the world with your art, then figure out the best way to achieve that effect on your ideal audience.

I also think the thing about communication is that it isn't just you ranting about things that make you mad...it is about connecting with your audience and bringing them with you. And also knowing there are some people that you can't communicate with.

This is all vague, I think. But it really depends on what you are doing.
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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#4 Post by cesullivan » Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:01 am

This is a good question. Generally, preaching works best when you're "preaching to the choir," i.e. communicating with those who already agree with you--even MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech was more of a rallying cry for those already inclined to join the civil rights movement than it was a speech intended to change the minds of those strongly opposed to it.

Really changing someone's mind is difficult to do, so you need to be a little sneaky. If this project is a story, use the voices of your characters to communicate your message, but leave yourself out of it. Create a character who is uneducated about the topic you want to discuss, and make the story about them--how they become informed, and how this changes them. Or you could make it about a character who is affected negatively by [whatever it is you're talking about]. Then try to make your reader identify with them.

Then again, there might be times when it is appropriate to demonstrate your passion for an issue (to drop the anvil, as you put it). Perhaps the best time would be when you have an audience that isn't necessarily opposed to your position, but is a little apathetic about the issue in general.
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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#5 Post by SHiNKiROU » Thu Oct 31, 2013 11:43 pm

My concern is that if I remove the "preachy" (telling -> showing) part, then there is no information at all, so I need to somehow find a middle ground. A parallel problem in hard science fiction are science infodumps. I think scientific accuracy + detail should be a source of interesting facts rather than boring walls of useless text.

Maybe I should trust my readers for being able to detect subtlety.

From previous posts, I agree that "raising awareness of the issue" rather than "taking a position in the issue" is one way of avoiding being preachy.

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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#6 Post by Greeny » Fri Nov 01, 2013 4:03 pm

Personally, I'm of the belief that rather than providing the answers, you should always raise the questions, and leave the reader to come to their own conclusions.

When you tell someone "this is how it should be" or "this is wrong", you're basically shoving them your ideals, which tends to cause a mental reaction in people that prevents them from taking the message to heart, regardless of the content.

Instead, ask yourself how you yourself came to have these views. What made you think about these issues? If you portray a hypothetical situation in which the issue arises, without hammering in "and this is wrong!"... people will be more inclined to actually think about it themselves, which is much more likely to get the message across.

So, in short, create a hypothetical situation; include multiple sides and viewpoints; demonstrate consequences without atrificially vilifying them. A great way to do this is by analogy, because once more, if it's too close to the reality people may close up for fear of being handed an opinion. Scary!

That's my two cents anyways.
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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#7 Post by SundownKid » Fri Nov 01, 2013 4:35 pm

Greeny wrote: So, in short, create a hypothetical situation; include multiple sides and viewpoints; demonstrate consequences without atrificially vilifying them. A great way to do this is by analogy, because once more, if it's too close to the reality people may close up for fear of being handed an opinion. Scary!

That's my two cents anyways.
I don't think this is true; being highly opinionated is fine for a work. The problem comes when a writer starts preaching this opinion, e.g. "dropping the anvil". It's all about showing and not telling.

Remember that not everyone reading the story will be in disagreement with you. So if they already agree, then a heavy handed message will annoy them. For example, if you're trying to show that racial discrimination is bad, have a multicultural cast who are good friends, but don't launch into a lecture about why you shouldn't discriminate.

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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#8 Post by Flowers from Nowhere » Fri Nov 01, 2013 5:18 pm

May I recommend multiple editors/idea bouncers to read your drafts to see if they think you're being preachy or informative. This will work best if you get a wide variety of people, not just friends or others you might expect to agree with you. You could get some through the recruitment forum here and I expect there are also other venues available.

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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#9 Post by fullmontis » Fri Nov 15, 2013 7:50 am

This is just my opinion, but I believe that a work that wants to give an opinion should always show both sides of the medal and never only one. It is both more interesting to read and allows the reader to form an opinion himself (of course considering no partiality and honesty in the data presented). It is also the basis to me to well rounded characters, where there are no back and white, "good" or "evil" characters (or it just becomes propaganda) but people with diverging opinions for different, real reasons.

Being Anvilicious, as you say, might be helpful to raise attention to a point of view that hasn't been considered til now. But this may also squander the reader's ability to form his own opinions, dumbing down the objectivity of your work.

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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#10 Post by trooper6 » Fri Nov 15, 2013 10:24 am

But works of art don't have to be objective. (And I'd actually argue that nothing we produce can be truly objective because we are not objects. We are subjects grounded in our lived experiences. Anyway...)

I just watched 12 Years a Slave. The point of the book (and also the film) was to show how awful slavery was. The author Northrupp didn't say, look here is how slavery is good...here is how slavery is bad, you decide how you feel about it. Nope, he was wrote a book that was completely about how bad slavery was. Because he had been enslaved and there was no other side for him. But the book/film works because it is told really well.

And, again, I think that is the crux of it all...do you tell the story well? If you tell it well, it will be moving and powerful...if you tell it poorly, it will be anvilicious and preachy.

Don't be afraid of your point of view. Just learn how to use rhetoric effectively.
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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#11 Post by SundownKid » Fri Nov 15, 2013 12:33 pm

fullmontis wrote:This is just my opinion, but I believe that a work that wants to give an opinion should always show both sides of the medal and never only one. It is both more interesting to read and allows the reader to form an opinion himself (of course considering no partiality and honesty in the data presented). It is also the basis to me to well rounded characters, where there are no back and white, "good" or "evil" characters (or it just becomes propaganda) but people with diverging opinions for different, real reasons.

Being Anvilicious, as you say, might be helpful to raise attention to a point of view that hasn't been considered til now. But this may also squander the reader's ability to form his own opinions, dumbing down the objectivity of your work.
No work is obligated to show both sides of an argument, in fact, some of the most famous works are opinionated one way or another. Dr Strangelove didn't try to claim that "if we use atomic bombs right, the apocalypse won't happen", and yet it delivered its message in an enjoyable way. Anvilicious is not having an opinion, but it's simply being unable to convey it without taking suspension of disbelief away from the reader.

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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#12 Post by fullmontis » Fri Nov 15, 2013 4:12 pm

SundownKid wrote:
fullmontis wrote:This is just my opinion, but I believe that a work that wants to give an opinion should always show both sides of the medal and never only one. It is both more interesting to read and allows the reader to form an opinion himself (of course considering no partiality and honesty in the data presented). It is also the basis to me to well rounded characters, where there are no back and white, "good" or "evil" characters (or it just becomes propaganda) but people with diverging opinions for different, real reasons.

Being Anvilicious, as you say, might be helpful to raise attention to a point of view that hasn't been considered til now. But this may also squander the reader's ability to form his own opinions, dumbing down the objectivity of your work.
No work is obligated to show both sides of an argument, in fact, some of the most famous works are opinionated one way or another. Dr Strangelove didn't try to claim that "if we use atomic bombs right, the apocalypse won't happen", and yet it delivered its message in an enjoyable way. Anvilicious is not having an opinion, but it's simply being unable to convey it without taking suspension of disbelief away from the reader.
Of course mine is just an opinion. But since you brought up Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange expresses my point rather well. Should a man be so free to even cultivate sick fantasies or should he be restricted so much that he can't even defend himself? The film depicts both scenarios, shows what would happen and lets the viewer form his own opinions. Adopting this kind of exposition doesn't make a work better, it just makes it more objective IMHO (and harder, since it is always harder to accept other points of view other than our own as valid, but that also makes it more precious).

A good work with an opinion doesn't make its opinion more valid, it just makes it easier to understand. Bringing grist to one's mill may serve a purpose in making a point but ignoring other points of view is obfuscating proof a little. Morals are not like math where if one formula is right, the opposite must be wrong: there can be multiple agreeable opinions at the same time, IF the facts are expressed transparently. Showing only one side so that I will agree with it isn't objective because you omit data that I may agree with even more. I probably could make an example to clarify but I'm in lazy mode ON so... Maybe later :mrgreen:

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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#13 Post by Caveat Lector » Fri Nov 15, 2013 8:14 pm

I know I should've replied to my own topic a lot sooner, but I wanted to take the time to think about what to say in response to some of these suggestions:
fullmontis wrote:Bringing grist to one's mill may serve a purpose in making a point but ignoring other points of view is obfuscating proof a little. Morals are not like math where if one formula is right, the opposite must be wrong: there can be multiple agreeable opinions at the same time, IF the facts are expressed transparently.
I think I should've clarified myself from the start: It’s not a matter of having an opinion that’s just an opinion and therefore can’t definitively be proven as right or wrong, nor is it about a morally grey issue that doesn't have a definite right or wrong answer. It’s mainly to do with prejudice and how to deal with it. I know what the message I'm aiming for is, but it’s important for the reader to understand it, too, and possibly recognize what they see in their own daily lives. I believe that's where the effective communication described by trooper6 needs to come into play.
Kjata wrote:If I wanted to educate someone about a certain issue, you must try and see why they have their opinion on the issue. Very often, this is because they are not aware of the full issue, thus to educate them you can demonstrate the full issue (without stating your opinion on the issue is correct). They can then be left to make an opinion on the issue for themselves.
At the very least, I can understand the underlying causes of prejudice and why some people are so easily influenced by it. And yes, it’s true that often, they’re just simply unaware of just how truly awful the issue really is and only know the version their parents brought them up with. THAT BEING SAID…there are also people who are fully aware of these issues, and choose to ignore them and firmly hold on to their convictions. How do you account for those people? You don't. You just focus on the people who are willing to go into this with an open mind.
trooper6 wrote:I think it is central to know who your audience is and what you want to achieve. Do you want to provide a positive representation...for whom? For the underrepresented person? For those who may hold stereotypes about the underrepresented person? Do you want to speak to the bullies or the bullied? Because that will completely change how you do your art.
In the case of providing a positive representation for "the underrepresented person", it’s more about making them actual characters with their share of problems and not stereotypes or archetypes. By making them "real people", they’d feel more accessible to the reader, and easier to sympathize with. In this case, it might be a case of “preaching to the choir”, but it’s also a case of suggesting how people struggling with this issue can find the support they need. Making the antagonists "real people", too, might actually help people see how easy it is for "nice" people to be deeply ignorant, and possibly even recognize those qualities in people they know. Like, say, depicting someone's best friend as someone who tutors their classmates in chemistry, takes times out of their day to help little old ladies cross the street, and then walk to their local KKK meeting (racism is not the issue in my story, but you get the picture).
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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#14 Post by Katy133 » Sat Nov 16, 2013 2:01 pm

I think a good tip to avoid turning people off from a story with strong themes/messages is to allow the story to show both sides of the argument, rather than just focus on the side you're on or the side you want the audience to be on. Also, having the characters in the story who are against your message shouldn't be flat characters labelled as "bad". They should at least give a well-reasoned arguement to support their side of the issue. That way, it's less/not preachy because you've at least given both sides a chance.

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Re: Line Between "Informative" and "Preaching"

#15 Post by Caveat Lector » Sat Nov 16, 2013 4:26 pm

At best, I can only examine the psychology of the antagonists to explain why the act the way they do. I can depict them in a semi-humanizing light instead of as outright villains. But....I'm sorry for being really vague on this.
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