Don’t Teach Me; Thrill Me

One of the things that divides me as a writer (hence, the title of this blog) is how much–if at all–I “teach” my readers any valuable lessons. Much of my past writing in this blog has been didactic in nature, asking you semi-philosophic questions about how we live our lives. The response has been great, and I appreciate that.

There’s a place and time for that, too. I wouldn’t change anything about the blog entries I’ve posted.

Where I am now, though, with Cold Rock, is exactly the opposite of where I started this story a few years ago. The first draft was filled with teach-mes, and the climax was supposed to be some kind of self-applicable, reader-relevant lesson about coming to Christ, religion, and/or the spiritual side.

What I’ve come to realize is that Cold Rock needs to be about none of these things. In fact, it needs to be much more thrill, and much less teach.

I was working on one of the later chapters yesterday, at the pool, and I could hear my inner censor pointing out to me that I was heading back toward that dreaded teach-me-a-lesson zone. I could feel the pull of the teach-me writer within, followed by the thrill-me writer shouting warnings of what will happen if I go too far down that teachable road.

Fortunately, thrill-me won, and I got back on track. But I’m not going to lie to you. It’s in (half) my nature to write like this. I am a generally positive person who wants others to be happy.  I’d be a liar if I said anything differently. I want to teach you something. It’s why I’m a teacher (I guess, right?).

One of the main reasons why I decided to Thrill instead of Teach is because of feedback I received, oddly enough, about a Miley Cyrus song called, “The Climb.” I found it on YouTube by accident, and I loved it. I loved the lyrics, the melody, the video. Everything. I asked my 14-year-old daughter what she thought, fully expecting her to say something like, “I love the song, but it’s annoying that you like it. So I guess I hate it now.”

She said nearly all of that: “I [hate] the song, [and] it’s annoying that you like it. I hate it [even more] now.”

Or something like that. I remember a lot of annoyings and hates. I certainly got the message.

I went to school the next day and asked some of the kids who were just a little older–15 – 17. What did they think of “The Climb”?

Hate. Annoying. Yeah.

Same thing. So I went further. I dared to ask the ultimate follow-up question: Why?

More Annoyings. More Hates. And then this:

“I don’t want a message. I want good music that thrills me.”

Back to the Thrill Ride.

So that’s where I am now, with Cold Rock.

Did I tell you that I’ve been reading these Patricia Cornwell novels? The Kay Scarpetta series? I’m on Book Four now, Cruel and Unusual. Love them. Devour them. Don’t remember much about them a week after I finish them.

A sign of good fiction? A good thrill without the teach? I’m not sure. But I do know that I am thrilled enough to buy the next book, and the next, and the next.

Exactly what I want to do for my readers. Thrill. Entertain. Make them want to come back for more. Not to be told how to live their lives or be better people. But for the thrill ride.

I’ll end with this: I mentioned this in an earlier blog post, and I’ll state it here again. My good friend Brad gave me some great advice: If it’s not a how-to book, don’t instruct.

Perfect.

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