Story vs Message: Striking the Balance

Guest post by Randy Davila

Visionary fiction authors have one of the hardest jobs as writers—to both entertain their readers and to introduce them to new metaphysical topics, which the readers may have never been exposed to before. The most successful authors, of any type of fiction, understand that the first purpose of their book must always be to entertain.

Unfortunately, many times we see visionary fiction authors who feel so powerfully about their message that they let it become the central focus of the story, and drown the reader in metaphors, exercises, theories and unnatural dialogue all in the name of conveying their message. They have forgotten that their readers came to the fiction section of the bookstore to be entertained first and foremost. This is where the fiction author can run into the most difficulty in trying to reconcile their love of the story for the love of the message.

We, as fiction authors, have been told time and time again to “show, don’t tell”—and your metaphysical or spiritual message is no exception to this rule. To keep the reader engaged, you must show them how your character’s negative thinking is drawing negative circumstances into his life; or leave room for the reader to intuit how the character’s dreams about the Divine Feminine correlate to her real life experiences. Showing the reader how these theories work instead of simply telling them that will help them to learn your message gracefully through the story that you are conveying. Remember, the art of great fiction is in what the author doesn’t say rather than what they tell you explicitly.

If you’re ever in doubt or are unsure of how this show-don’t-tell philosophy can work in fiction, I strongly suggest reading one of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books by Rick Riordan (or if you have kids, you may have already read them!). Riordan is able to not only tell a story so engaging and entertaining that his books have been turned into blockbuster movies; but also teaches school-aged children about Greek mythology to the extent that some teachers are even using his books in their classrooms. In fact, most kids who have read these books are more knowledgeable about Greek myths than their parents! They didn’t start these books with the intention of learning about Greek mythology—instead they picked it up as a bonus from their enjoyment of the books.

This is how visionary fiction (and any type of fiction) authors must think of their story. Is the plot compelling? Are the characters relatable? Is there a story here that will entertain the people who open the book? These are the main components of any fiction book; and an amazing thing happens when our readers are enthralled by the story, characters and setting… suddenly they are taken into a separate world of our creation where they are able to effortlessly open their minds to these new ideas without ever noticing that they are learning.

The secret to a visionary fiction author’s success is simple: give your readers a great story and teach them along the way.


Randy Davila is the author of The Gnostic Mystery available on Amazon, a contributing author in Pearls of Wisdom: 30 Inspirational Ideas to Live Your Best Life now! and the President of Hierophant Publishing and Hampton Roads Publishing Company. Between the two publishing houses, he has overseen the publication of books by authors such as Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, Neale Donald Walsch, Richard Bach, Jack Canfield, and many, many, more.

As a publisher, it is Randy’s goal mission to bring as much information about the publishing industry to new, up-and-coming writers in the hopes that this insider knowledge will help them to convey their messages to publishers and the world at large. In his classes on publishing, Randy provides a road map for potential authors to follow in order to get their books published in today’s competitive book market.

Please visit Hierophant Publishing, Insight Events USA  or Red Wheel  for the full line of books that Randy publishes. Check out the Author Community hosted by Randy Davila on Facebook.

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10 Responses to Story vs Message: Striking the Balance

  1. Randy, you have brought up a point that I suspects haunt many VF writers – how to get the message in without coming across as overtly preachy. I agree that it's vital to get the balance right. It's also fair to say (in my opinion) that since most fiction ultimately reflects a writer's psychology, that you don't have to force the message in. If writers take your advice and put story first, much of the message will slip in naturally. That has certainly been my experience, anyway.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

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  2. Hi Randy. I like the way you shrank your message down into one conclusive sentence, "The secret to a visionary fiction author’s success is simple: give your readers a great story and teach them along the way." Story first, don't preach should be the motto of every fiction writer, but, as you say, especially the writer of visionary fiction. There are so many exciting metaphysical ideas we yearn to pass on to our readers that the temptation is great to force the message. Never a good idea. Thanks so much for your support of visionary writers through Hierophant Publishing and Hampton Roads Publishing Company.

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  3. Excellent article, Randy. I think you've put your finger on the crucial balance that must be achieved in quality new age or visionary fiction.

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  4. Hello Randy,

    Thank you for writing this article – every writer, but especially those of us who write visionary fiction, can use the important reminder to entertain and engage our readers first and foremost. We need to trust that within the reader is the capacity for the growth in consciousness that can be gleaned through our VF stories – stories that connect with them on an emotional and soul level and not in a didactic or proselytizing way. As you say, it's not the telling, it is the showing – so our readers can have the opportunity to expand their consciousness via the characters' experiences in story.

    I like your example – "leave room for the reader to intuit how the character’s dreams about the Divine Feminine correlate to her real life experiences." In my experience in writing VF about the Divine Feminine, this is an important balance to uphold. That is why our definition of VF talks about avoiding proselytizing or preaching – no place for that in VF!

    thanks,
    Jodine

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  5. Admin - Eleni says:

    Great post. Show don't tell was something that was drilled into me in my screenwriting class. I still use the techniques I learned in my novels. I think strong characters are of equal importance to the plot as they have to demonstrate the message in a convincing way.

    Incidentally, my friend recently recommended "The Olympians." Your mentioning it makes me more curious to read it.

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  6. Pingback: Reflections of 2012 « Visionary Fiction Alliance

  7. schillingklaus says:

    I understand the "show don't tell" as a lie spread by proponents of hyllic misguiders such as Gustave Flaubert, and I will definitely not succumb to this absurd rule, period!

    Visionary poets like Melville, Hugo, Poe, et alia, did have no qualms whatsoever in telling, and neither won't I, regardless of what the vulgar hylic masses would prefer to read.

    Those "visionary fiction authors who feel so powerfully about their message that they let it become the central focus of the story, and drown the reader in metaphors, exercises, theories and unnatural dialogue all in the name of conveying their message" are those that I respect most, and none of the critiques will ever be able to dissuade me from trying to follow their way, the one and only iultimately acceptable one in my eyes.

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    • Thanks for your comment, schillingklaus, and glad to see you commenting here on the VFA site. You are welcome. Fortunately, VF is a big tent that admits a wide variety of opinions, yours included. I agree with you to a point, that point being where readers stop reading my novel. Too much "tell" and they are likely to feel that they are being preached at, and I don't know any independent-minded person, even if he is sitting in a pew in a church, who enjoys being told what to think or do.

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  8. schillingklaus says:

    And I stop reading a novel if iit lacks a discernable abstract concept/idea/dogma/ideology … as the central focus, and if it tries to force me to relate to non-stereotypical characters. It would be absurd for me to write deliberately something that would be distateful and incomprehensible for me as a reader.

    It's the "show don't tell" people who tell others what to do and tio think.

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  9. Great Balance in this article about Balance 🙂

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