Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pangs of Moralizing

As one who has his feet in both the world of writing and the world of the church, I am often asked to create a piece of writing (play, screenplay, story) for faith based organizations.

I like doing so, as it gives me a chance to blatantly blend two important areas of my life – faith and art. (These two areas are blended in everything I do, just not always so blatantly.)

But there are times when my producers try to push me to lean away from story and focus solely on getting a message across – less art, more propaganda.

It is tricky to try and explain why that is counterproductive. Coming from a world where sermons can lead audiences in droves to the altar, the people from the church business can’t help but to think of story as just another way to preach.

But story is a lousy preaching platform; and if you get those same folk to honestly talk about the stories that impacted their lives, you’ll likely find them sermon-free.  Preaching just isn’t a strength of the medium.

A story works emotionally first; if there is a message, it comes through the experience, not by stating a moral.

My pastor last week talked about the difference between exposing people to truth, and experiencing truth. Unless someone experiences truth, it doesn’t quite stick.

Storytelling is a way to get people to experience; at least that is what it does best.

Take a look at Jesus’ parables – while there may be preaching and teaching around the stories, there isn’t much within the stories.

Even stories that contain great speeches – think On the Waterfront, or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or Some More Recent Movie That I Just Can’t Think of Right Now, the monologues are earned by the speaker through experience, and are almost commentaries on the story rather than sermons.

So what does one do when they want to tackle a big issue within a story?  The Bitter Script Reader has a nice write up on the topic, examining a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode written by Jane Espenson.

A captive audience...

Well worth the look, as an experienced script reader digs into a work by one of the better writers in television.

The summary: serve the story first, and give all sides their due.

Favorite line from the blog post

“Even if Jane Espenson had a point she wanted to make, she seems to be smart enough to know that simply preaching an idea that goes unchallenged isn't the way to win converts to your side.”

So, if you want to hire me to write a piece that includes a message, expect me to fight for the story first – only because I really care about the message.

Just my thoughts,



Rob Corley said...

Excellent point Sean and love your view on the subject of telling a good story first.

David Goulet said...

There's a reason we refer to it as 'The Greatest Story Ever Told', and not 'The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached'.