On Reading

Writers and the Soapbox Trope

Is it just me, or does it seem like writers are becoming progressively lazier and more patronizing when it comes to writing about moral or social issues?

I’m not talking about works like The Hunger Games where the moral questions are woven into the plot. I’m talking about stories where the author randomly stands on a soapbox in the middle of the story and preaches to the masses.

 In recent years, this style of writing has become so epidemic it is worming its way out of “trope” territory and veering precariously towards “cliché.” Nevertheless, I’ll still classify them as tropes in this post.

Thanks to tvtropes.com I was able to put a name to, what I consider, the three most annoying “moral” tropes that authors (published and unpublished alike) use.

Author Filibuster.

I have no problem with a writer expressing their opinion. I do, however, mind when they bring the story to a complete stand-still just so they can address a topic that will have no bearing on the plot whatsoever. It’s an opportunity for them to wag the finger at some political/religious/cultural norm that runs contrary to their own beliefs while simultaneously holding the readers hostage.

© Copyright 2007 Corbis Corporation

I read a novel two years ago where everything was dropped so the author could go on a tangent about illegal immigration for several pages. It was never addressed prior to this discussion, had nothing to do with the novel’s overall message, and was subsequently never mentioned again.

It was so pointless when it came to story and character development (it didn’t even take place between two central characters) I was puzzled as to why the book’s editor didn’t opt to cut it out altogether.

It was as if the book took an unnecessary commercial break. Only instead of trying to sell you Liberty Mutual, it was trying to sell you the author’s brand of morality:

“Hello. Are you tired of being a racist bigot? You should be.”

Writer on Board 

This occurs when a writer acts against a character’s established personality, usually by making them act stupid, in order to participate in whatever point they, the author, is trying to make.

For instance, making a character that is against violence suddenly act violent for no apparent reason just so the writer can say violence is wrong….even though that character already knows that.

Or they will force a character to do something dangerous like break into someone’s house for “justice!” even though that person is supposed to be intelligent and knows they could potentially get themselves killed. It’s all to show that we must all make sacrifices for the greater good, in spite of the fact that there are far safer ways of doing so.

 Character Filibuster

Often times, writers use their protagonists as a mouthpiece to voice their own opinions and thoughts. This isn’t always a bad thing. But in recent years people have become horrendously obnoxious with this trope. In some cases,  the character all but pulls down a projector screen to give a lecture via powerpoint, explaining why they are right and everyone that disagrees with them is hateful, stupid, or naive.

How terribly convenient it is that anyone in the story with a divergent point of view is either evil or a complete bastard. It’s not like they just have different life experiences or the situation is more complicated than the main character purports it to be. They disagree with the writer’s—sorry, “the character’s”— viewpoints simply because they are a bad person and for no other reason.

It’s also nice that the opposer is always rendered speechless by the character’s wisdom and never has a proper retort. It saves the reader the trouble of listening to both sides of the argument and forming their own opinion that may differ from the author’s.

Boss Yelling at Businessman

The crazy thing is, I agree with most of the things these writers are trying saying.

Yes, you read that correctly.

 However, I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse for lazy and condescending writing. If a writer is going to address a heavy topic, they should treat it with the gravity and complexity it deserves.

Works that don’t patronize their audiences are the ones that endure and actually help change society for the better.

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