Spin a Story, Not a Sermon

Wednesday, October 09, 2019
Recently an idea popped into my head for a new story. “Awesome!” I thought. “People need this book right now. They are so clueless.”

In my defense, this is a book about a very political topic. I’ve been watching newscasters talk about this topic. And people post about it all the time on Facebook. As a nonfiction author, I have to say that the cluelessness of so many people should make me happy. It’s like job security.

But I also know that I’m going to have to be really careful not to write something that is preachy. If your story idea can be summed up as a meme, on a button, or a t-shirt, tread very carefully. You are going to have to take care to spin a top-notch story.

Yamile Saied Mendez did this when she wrote the picture book Where Are You From? This story is about a little girl who doesn’t look like everyone around her. Because of this, children and adults alike assume she is from somewhere else.

Where are you from? they ask.

Is your mom from here?

Is your dad from there? they ask.

See what I mean? This is a story that could very easily become a protest poster.  "Most of us come from somewhere else."  

Instead of letting this become a sermon, Mendez gives our young narrator a problem that resonates in today’s world and an abuelo. When he could lecture, abuelo spins a story about the many lands their ancestors called home.

If you haven’t read this picture book, I’d definitely recommend it for a great way to teach without preaching.  It is subtle, sweet and relatable. 

Not that this approach will work for my topic, but that’s okay. This is a soft sincere story. Mine needs to be humorous, but this has given me some ideas.

I need a narrator with a problem. She’s not happy with the condition of the world around her. People aren’t doing what they should and they need to be replaced with people who will do things right. The first person who needs to go is the lunch lady. 

What did you think I was talking about?

Whether your topic is diversity, acceptance or immigration, there are ways to address it that won’t seem heavy handed or preachy. The best way to do this, whether you are writing a picture book or a novel, is to spin a story.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins November 18th, 2019.


Sioux Roslawski said...

And obviously, Sue, you're a great story spinner, because you can make all sorts of topics compelling.

I know this picture book, I have a copy in class, and I use it with my students. It's a great resource for teachers.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I'm not surprised you have it. Love this book.

And thank you for the compliment!

Lynn said...

Excellent bit of advice. I've found that when you hit people over the head, you don't change their mind you just give them a headache :)

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