Preach, Teach, or Testify?

A friend forwarded me a link to a post on K.M. Wieland’s most awesome blog, WORDplay. The post, titled Should Stories Be Soapboxes, addresses the possible pitfalls of writing stories for the purpose of converting others to your line of thinking, whether that be religious, political, or philosphical. K.M.’s work is primarily addressed to writers of fiction, but it applies equally well to life story and memoir writing, and I urge you to enjoy the richness of her offerings.

Lots of people may read this post and wonder, “Am I guilty of this?” or “How do I avoid this?” and “How does this apply to memoir?”

I'll use a personal example of a situation that could go either way. I’m currently writing a memoir of my girlhood (covered in a separate blog). The story follows the path my husband and I took as we toured Los Alamos on our last visit in August, 2000. One of the first landmarks I saw was the Christian Church. My family was involved with that church from its inception, and I have filled five manuscript pages with memories of my experiences there. One of them was my baptism.

This would be a place to preach, if I were so inclined, which I’m not. I simply reported the event, along with my subsequent immature reaction:

... The week after I got home, I answered the call and was baptized later that afternoon at the Baptist Church, which generously shared their facility for such occasions. Answering that foundational question, “Do you, Sharon, take Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior?” was a little daunting. Well, yes. I did. And as I went under the water, I just hoped I wouldn’t regret this down the line somewhere when I’d have to make a tough decision. For at least the next couple of days I took this commitment with the utmost seriousness, feeling ever so holy and righteous. ...
Had I been inclined to preach, I might have lapsed into a testimony along the lines of how much God loves the world and gave His son to save us from sin, my joy at knowing that now I was now on my way to Heaven ... and urge readers to make their own decisions for Christ. ...

But therein lies a paradox. I’m not a “testifying type.” That’s not my calling. But some people are. We have all met a few. If you are one of them and you don’t include that testimony in your writing, you won’t reflect the truth of who you are. Readers will respond to your writing the same way they respond to your testimony in daily life.

Bottom line:
Follow K.M. Weiland’s advice to be passionate about your message and let it lead the story. Testify if that’s where your fire is, and look for a way to let as much of that testimony as possible be showing rather than telling.

Write now:
draft a story about a topic you feel strongly about. Select a topic that you hope will influence the opinions of readers. Look for ways of letting your actions, interactions and reactions show your passion rather than blurting it out directly.


K.M. Weiland said...

Great example. A subtle touch of humor is often a great vehicle for all kinds of truths. Thanks for the link!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Great point! Thanks for the reminder of the value of humor.