Have you ever written a straw man in a story? He's the opponent you set up for the purpose of easily defeating, usually in order to destroy a belief or opinion he holds that you as an author despise.
Let's say that you hate onions (as I do), so the bad guy in your story is an onion farmer who decides that a law must be passed that all people must eat onions at every meal. You write him as being ridiculously vile, even maniacal. Then, your hero comes along and destroys him and his onion farm.
As an onion-hating author, that would be a lot of fun, but it's not a great idea for a story. I would be preaching against onions by setting up a ridiculous person who gets thrashed by my hero. This would be a very preachy kind of writing. It's an onion-hating sermon, and most readers (except maybe other onion haters who applaud the farmer's demise) will see it as a thinly-veiled, sermonizing attack.
In author circles, much has been written about "preachy" stories, especially in Christian-themed novels. I'll save the details for another post, but I have seen just as much preachy writing in secular stories as I have seen in Christian stories, maybe more, so Christians aren't the only ones trying to get our morals, or lack thereof, into our books.
Is it wrong to "preach" in our stories? I think not. We just have to learn to allow our stories and our characters to live out the "sermons" rather than delivering our points in obvious pulpit-pounding scenarios. When our readers close our books, we want them to feel and desire to live out the value of the story. If there is no real value, then the book isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
I mention the straw man, because I have one in my new book Enoch's Ghost. It was fun and satisfying to put him in and then do away with him, but this week I'll be altering him into a more realistic character who isn't there just to be destroyed. Then, the book will be done and ready to send to the publisher.
Any thoughts on preachy writing or straw men?