I recently read a blog post by Joel A. Parisi on Art, specifically writing. In the blog post, something he said struck me: "When Art is treated as a vehicle for a message, its beauty and effectiveness is lost." This made me think. Partly because I disagreed with him and partly because, deep inside, I found a sense of truth in his words. I don't like stories that preach at me; a story whose sole reason for existence is to proclaim a message. Not that stories with messages are bad (those are actually the best kind), but when a story is only a vehicle for a message something about it is lost.
In the weeks since I read that blog, I have continued to ruminate on this topic. Why is there such dislike of preachiness? What is wrong with the message-fueled story? This idea moved to the forefront of my thoughts when I acted out the skit of The Wise and Foolish Builders in front of my church. Acting it out, I teasingly asked what my motivation was. Then, as I acted out the Bible verses, I realized that this story was severely lacking. There was little character development, the plot was exceedingly simple, yet it is revered as a good story. Many of Jesus' parables, in fact, are held in such esteem, despite their preachiness and lack of depth. What causes Jesus' stories to be so amazing and modern 'parables' to be so... blah?
I propose that the problem nowadays is a marketing problem. Modern day parables are not presented as such. In fact, most stories which might make good parables are not because they are presented as stories. In a story, we want a character we can follow and a plot that interests us. However, with a parable we want to see an idea played out in a narrative. For example, many of Jesus' parables are presented like this: "The Kingdom of God is like..." and then he would proceed to describe the Kingdom through a narrative.
How are our 'parables' different? For one, we proclaim them as story rather than as a parable. And we do not give the reader the idea we are trying to describe (one might call it the thesis of the novel, which is to be presented at the beginning of the story and given closing remarks at the end). As such, the reader expects a compelling story and instead is turned away with merely a fleshing out of an idea. This causes the reader to dislike the story, rather than processing the idea which the story was supposed to have presented.
So what is the problem with message-fueled story? The fact that it is interpreted as story, rather than parable. If it were understood as a parable, the audience would not be disappointed by expecting something which the story was never trying to achieve in the first place.