Thursday, March 3, 2011

Inspiration from a lesson...but not

One of the first things you hear when you are setting out to write a picture book is, "Don't try to teach a lesson."  Kids see through it quickly and don't want it.  After all, as picture book writers, we are trying to instill a love of books and kids won't be eager to embrace another source of "do this, not that" in their lives.  I certainly don't read fiction to get a lesson out of it.  And kids aren't any different.

However, I've come to find this advice rather deceiving.  When you pick up just about any picture book, you can derive some lesson from it.  There are lessons about friendship, environmental respect, history, the nature of love, what to expect on the first day of kindergarten, what it means to be a big sister, and on and on and on.  Picture books are little introductions to the world.

So, what gives?  I think I have an idea.  Yesterday I tried to sit down and write a book with a lesson (it was an experiment in writing something for my church).  And it turned out SUPER BORING!  Not a little boring - like sitting around waiting for an oil change.  But mega boring - like listening to someone dictate binary code for hours.  I think the problem lies in the intent.  When I purposfully try to weave a lesson into my writing, it is obvious, forced and preachy.  When I try to tell a fun story, it is a fun story - lesson or not.

What do you think?

11 comments:

  1. I feel the same way. I'm not sure why writing with a lesson doesn't work out--maybe because it focuses less on the development of an idea and more on characters in situations they have to learn from. Well, lessons have a way of working into writing naturally anyway.

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  2. Fascinating post, very much like my own experience.

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  3. Well yes the point of telling stories is to convey some sort of message. All the earliest fables and parables had some kind of meaning, even if it was just to stay the hell away from the creepy lady with the gingerbread house or to be respectful of the gods--or God.

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  4. I don't write picture books, but I've read a lot in my time and most of the favourites tell some sort of message but in a very entertaining way!

    Loved your previous post. What a great idea!

    Denise<3

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  5. My favorite picture books have lessons. I completely agree with you though...the lessons seem to evolve naturally--they can't be the main point of the story. Fun post!

    Carla @ carla-jansen.blogspot.com

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  6. Ditto what Carla said, I think the lesson subconsciously comes out in the dialogue you choose etc. I've also learnt something about my own writing. In the old days of Little Red Riding Hood you could have all sorts of bad things happen but these days it has to be a lot more lovely dovey to sell. And that makes it a whole lot harder to be fun and lovey dovey. I am trying to get all my angst out in poems to leave some airy fairyness to my pbs as a result. So I um haven't come up with any yet hee hee!

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  7. Yes,the key is definitely "subtlety" :) The message should be underlying, not explicit.

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  8. Beautifully to the point Megan. I like your thought, but think that the trick is not in staying away from having a 'moral of the story' but rather to get there in the most devious way possible! It is when we, the reader or the viewer or the hearer, unwrap the moral for ourselves that we become engaged in the story. If the story is told with a heavy 'now pay attention' hand that the condecending tone ruins the fun. The fun is always in the layers of wrapping! :) Thought provoking post!

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  9. Almost all stories have a lesson of some sort. Sometimes if the message is part of the theme it is easier to disguise. Subtlety, as you say, is the key.

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