There’s a profound difference between a preacher and a commentator, a politician and a journalist, a spin doctor and a critic. And what is that?
One word. Agenda.
The main reason why we don’t always trust preachers, politicians and spin doctors is not that they lie – though clearly they sometimes do – it’s just that they generally only give us one side of the truth. The truth as they see it. In effect, their agenda dictates the message.
A preacher will tell you only he has the facts – and you’d better listen to him or watch out…
A politician may want you to believe his version of the state of the economy – so he will deliberately withhold contrary facts, distort any opposing argument and/or belittle his detractors – sound familiar?
The modern spin doctor will point out benefits to seemingly bad events, or minimize the impact of bad news by diverting your attention to something else. All very clever – but is it right?
If we’re paying attention, we should be able to see these people’s agendas at work – and choose to either ignore what they say, take them with a pinch of salt – or perhaps agree, because they reflects our own agendas.
But what about these opposing views? Don’t they need a fair hearing too?
If we (as consumers) are to make wise decisions based on the facts, we surely need to be able to see a situation from all angles, to appreciate all factors in order to view things with objectivity. Because only from wise decisions can our lives be enriched.
As a writer, and therefore as a purveyor of truth, you need to be fair and objective. You mustn’t hide from the truth, or try to negate certain facts or play any cheap tricks with words. Even in fiction.
The way to do this is to, as far as possible, ‘remove’ yourself from the writing. A reader should not be constantly aware that there is an author trying to tell him something. You do this by effectively ‘hiding’ your opinions and your agendas from the reader.
If you have a character with a particular agenda, it’s important you have the opposing view outlined somewhere else in your text. It’s not your job to force one view of the world on to readers. You must gain their trust and you can only do that by being seen to be objective. Start to preach and you’ll lose the reader, I guarantee it!
A good piece of writing will be a measured argument. It will contain both sides of a debate. When you choose a theme for your story, make sure you’re going to show both sides of the issue. Your eventual story resolution may imply a certain truth but you should not overtly suggest that it is the only truth – or that you have some kind of monopoly on it!
As a serious writer, it is your job to speak with authority – to imply that you have a kind of omniscient wisdom – that you see all, present all but without judgment – and that you are leaving the ultimate decisions about what’s right and wrong to your reader.
For example, in an article for a magazine, the best way to speak with authority is to leave your more extreme opinions – and your agendas – out of the piece. For example if you are presenting an article recommending store items or different products, you can’t be seen to favor just one – you will then be accused of having a vested interest – or receiving some kick back.
The same applies to fiction. You cannot be seen to favor one character’s viewpoint to the exclusion of all others.
I guess what I’m talking about is balance. On a simplistic level, where you have bad guys, you need heroes. Where there is evil behavior, you need salvation. Where there is war and despair, you need hope.
On a practical level, where you have characters that espouse extreme views, you need other characters that endorse contrary views, so that you don’t get accused of using your writing as platform for sermonizing.
As far as you can, strive for balance in your writing. Whenever you feel tempted to make an issue of one of your own personal agendas, think it through – try to imagine and incorporate the opposing view.
I think you’ll find your writing will be stronger for it.
Of course, the one exception – where you’re ‘allowed’ to express biased opinions – is advertising. In fact, it’s where all the rules of good objective writing are often deliberately broken.
But that’s for another article – to come later no doubt!
This article is written by Rob Parnell. Visit his website at www.easywaytowrite.com