Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A place for preaching?

Please don't take away my writer's license for saying this: some kids like preaching.

Don't get me wrong. My manuscripts are not going to start saying, "Now, children, remember, lying is a really bad idea." My characters will not begin making observations like "You know, I think the real drug-free zone is in our hearts and minds." (The second example is an actual quote, to the best of my recollection, from a book that shall remain nameless.)

It's just that when I was a kid, preaching and predictability in general were kind of a guilty pleasure (and if that means I was an innocent child, well, I could've told you that). I'm certainly not the first to observe that kids find comfort in predictability. It's a major reason series are so popular, after all, and with a quick explanation of who all the characters are, an author can easily bring latecomers up to speed and get them hooked. I wonder, though, if those little explanations aren't just there for new readers. Confession: as a kid, I enjoyed Chapter 2 of every Baby-Sitters' Club novel, the chapter that informed us in slightly different words each time, "Kristy is our leader. Claudia is the artistic one..."

Why? Because when I read that chapter, I got to say to myself, "I know that already." I knew the author was talking to the kids out there who didn't know, and I knew that if called upon, I could've helped the author show the other readers around. That was an empowering feeling.

The same goes for books that teach lessons. There's comfort in knowing what's going to happen and what the book is going to say. Kids spend a lot of time feeling like they know less than other people, and it's nice to have a chance to know that already.

What about the rest of you? Did you feel this way when you were younger?


  1. I absolutely hated the sections in the Animorphs series where they would re-explain how the Animorphs came to be. I got all sixth-grade indignant, like, "I can't believe they're devoting 2 whole pages to this again." Plus, like, what kid didn't know how the animorphs started? Who would start a series in the middle instead of the beginning? Srsly. I am pretty sure I even sometimes sighed dramatically when I reached the "previously on Animorphs" section in every book.

    I was one self-righteous Animorphs fan.

    It's interesting that you mention The Baby-Sitter's Club in a post about lessons/preaching. My mom refused to purchase the books because she was convinced they reinforced some pretty serious gender role stereotyping & fetishizing of Claudia (yeah, my mom used those words to my elementary school self). I look back now and laugh, because they are actually relatively benign little books, that were actually pretty innovative in terms of portrayals of a blended family, divorce, a kid with diabetes, complex female friendships...

  2. Based on grumbles I've heard from others, I'm pretty sure your reaction to the "previously" section was the norm and mine was the exception. But wasn't it a little fun to feel self-righteous?

    It's true, the BSC taught me about a lot of things. I know I learned what both autism and anorexia were from the series, and diabetes is probably on that list as well. The books put things in terms that made sense to eight-year-old me and didn't make me feel silly for not knowing it all before. I like your point about complex female friendships, too, even if the books did make way too big a deal over Mary Anne's having TWO best friends.

  3. I... started skimming chapter 2 of BSC books after a while and then skipping it. Though I don't remember doing that for Animorphs. I was older for that series, though, and I only read the first 30 or so. I read and re-read a lot more BSC than that, so I had a lot more repetitions to get tired of it.
    Now most of the books I read start in the middle of the action and you figure it out as you go along, which is actually how I assumed most "adult" books worked until I took a creative writing course in college. Me and one other guy were the Sci-Fi/Fantasy people of the group, and it was his week to share his story/excerpt. I read it, thought it was pretty good, get to class ready to do the discussion thing... and everybody else is all confused and not clear what's going on and he just started in the middle of the story and... I was agog. Part of the discussion wound up being, "So this is common in genre writing?" Um, it's not common in other writing?

  4. @nicoley i was gonna mention that you thought the amimorphs recaps were less anoying then the bsc ones but you beat me to it

    some preachy things are fun some are lame like its beter if they get the moral across with a metaphor instead of beating you over the head with it if its subtle enough you learn the lesson without knowing you were being preached at or you know but you are to entertained to mind

  5. I have a feeling there's an inverse correlation between preaching and coolness.