5 Tips for Revolutionary Writers
Chapter 9 “Types of Writers” – Section 7 “Career Writers”
With Links to Supplementary Material
Each of us has revolutionary ideals within us—we believe in certain morals, values, causes, and beliefs that we would like to see in the world. And these ideals that we have will affect everything from which characters of which ideals play the antagonistic or protagonist role, to the natural consequences of actions. Not to say that we are all trying to topple a class-based system of oppression; but something as simple as illustrating that being nice to others is a good thing is a message and a call for revolution in itself. Today, I'm going to talk about how to empower this tendency in writers, while directing the tendency to support the overarching story, without overshadowing it.
Tip 1: Understand and practice the principles of Depth in a story.
I've written about the principles of adding depth and themes into a story—identifying themes, noting consequences of actions, literal truth, universality, simplicity in themes, show don't tell, and the avoidance of demonization. I will avoid repeating information in this article as to the specifics of depth, and stick to attitudes and practices that will help the writer to be the most effective Revolutionary Writer that they can be.
Tip 2: Know exactly what you believe and write down, in depth, the reason you believe it.
Know the themes that you want to discuss in your book—the topics that really put a fire in your chest. Whether they be bravery in the face of evil, struggling to stand up and be a better person, equality of gender/race/sexual-orientation/age, etc... Then, figure out why you believe as you do. This is extremely important because the depth of that theme in your story will always match the level of thought and study and philosophy that you have put into the topic. If I am talking about the importance of gender equality, it will be a poor novel if I just reason that sexism is bad, and everybody knows it, and everyone who disagrees is just stupid. On the other hand, if I place myself in the shoes of a woman through empathy and show the level of hurt and oppression that sexism causes, or consider the atrocious consequences of a sexist society in all of its specifics, I will have created a more powerful and thought-provoking theme.
Tip 3: Focus on only a few themes per novel.
When I first began writing, I wanted my story to be a sort of magnum opus of all my beliefs and desires for growth and change in the world. However, I discovered two key flaws in that attitude. First, you need so much time to discuss any one theme—entire chapters to fairly give any matter the attention that it deserves—which can only constitute so much of your story without overshadowing the plot. Second, for every new theme that you include, you steal the spotlight, attention, and amount of energy that your audience will put into thinking about the message you have created. It will be far more powerful to only focus your story on a few related themes, than to create a sampler platter of a dozen half-baked thoughts.
Tip 4: Create an honest message through complexity in your plot, setting, and characters.
If we go back to the previous example of sexism, we can almost universally agree that it is bad. However, it is still possible for me to emotionally manipulate my audience to agree with me on such a straightforward issue. For example, I could create a series of events that caused unequal pay in the workplace due to an cruel male boss, to lead to a female character not being able to feed her cat, the cat dying, and the female character committing suicide. What makes this an act of emotional manipulation instead of a tragedy? I've not looked at any other factors or evils apart from the sexism that led to the tragedy, I've not treated the female protagonist with the respect or ingenuity to grow and beat her problem, I've oversimplified the situation, and I've demonized the antagonist of the story. In short, I've oversimplified the entire story instead of showing complexity and difficulty in the situation. There are no simple problems in life, no simple evils, no simple villains, and no simple solutions—and illustrating anything short of merited complexity is an act of emotional manipulation towards the audience that has trusted you.
Tip 5: Remember that your message is killed if it suffocates the story.
No matter how important you message is, it is not the life-blood of your story. Your story is, at its heart, your characters, their desires, and their efforts, pains, struggles, and what they learn in trying to attain their goals. Look at each and every theme in your story. If it is more prominent than the life-blood of the story, you need to shave it down and make it more subtle or else cut it—lest your story die. If your themes do anything short of empowering the motivations of the characters, the complexity of the plot, and the depth of the struggles that your characters face, then it is an overshadowing distraction that will make all your efforts for nothing.
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I'd also recommend just writing down the message for your reviolutionary plot, putting it away where you can't see it, and then just focusing on the story for a few drafts. Then, get the message back out and see if it still fits or if you can come up with something greater. Sometimes message muddles our creative juices and needs to have a time-out for bad behavior--at least in my experience.
Hope that helps!
Some Italians take pride for stories that are hard to follow due to a too complex plot line.
Is also easy to find an Italian that, when you ask him 'what is this story about', he may answer with things like 'this story talk about the meaning of life, it expores the decadence of the modern days through the life in Rome, like the scene of (...) a methaphore of (...) and (...)'
something like that.
Thanks for the question!