Thursday, September 16, 2010

Playing The Issue of the Week Card

Needless to say, this is a bad thing. That card has a very low balance and gets maxxed out pretty fast. It also pisses people off.

That's not to say that some issue or other you feel deeply about should be kept out of your writing - far from it. Just don't try to shove it in.

See, the things that matter most to you will find their way into your stories no matter what you do - or even if you're trying to keep them out. That's why all Pratchett (and all Hoyt and all Freer for that matter) has an underlying theme of 'what is 'human'?'. Or possibly 'what makes something a person?" I tend to hit the question of just where you find that hazy boundary between doing horrible things for the right reasons and doing them for reasons that just aren't sufficient justification - and how that affects the person who's doing the horrible things. And so on.

For that matter, if something happens that really gets under your skin, it will find a way into what you write. By then, the form could well have mutated to where no-one will recognize issue X, which is - trust me - a good thing.

Readers don't like getting lectured - or at least this reader doesn't. It tends to inspire immediate and rapid defenestration of the offending book. This is a problem, since kindles don't take well to that kind of treatment, and the delete key just isn't as satisfying.

Anyway, if I wanted a sermon, I'd go to church. If I wanted a lecture, I'd go to college. Besides, the issue of the week is old news by the time the book comes out, and the chances of it being back in that position when your book hits the shelves are pretty low. So many issues, so little time... I think they've got issue of the week booked through April 2057.

Another no-no with issues is to force your character to hand down the lecture - especially when it breaks the character. Whatever it is, trust it to leak out its own way. Having your main character stop, sometimes in the middle of the action (yes, there are Names who do this. They get away with it because they're Names - but I stopped buying their book when they started lecturing me), and sound off about issue X. Even, in the case of one formerly very popular author, when the character in question had no reason whatsoever to give a flying fornication about said issue.

(What does a flying fornication look like, anyway? I've often wondered about that... ahem. Sorry.)

I've mentioned some authors who handle assorted hot button or philosophical issues very well in their fiction. Anyone else?

12 comments:

Francis Turner said...

That was the thing that really irritated me about Spider's Variable Star. There was a 2 or 3 page rant about the evil President Bush in the middle which seemed to be totally and utterly pointless. Oh and it was totally irrelevant to the plot and not at all Heinleinlike (not that the book was at all Heinleinian really it was just another Spider Robinson novel only set in a Heinlein setting).

MataPam said...

And then there's over population and Global Warming, the pseudo sciences that refuse to go away.

"Handles well" Umm, how about Janet Evanovich and gun ownership? The regular background joke. Steffie rarely has her gun along, and rarely loaded when she does. But every little old lady pulls one when threatened. Her sidekick is the worst shot in the world, she dates two men who come armed to the teeth . . . Heavy handed but funny.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I tend to forgive Janet Evanovich because the world needs more reasons to smile.

Synova said...

I never really saw the Stephanie Plum Grey Brigade, gun toting grandmas and everyone else, as a pro-gun control element.

I just thought it was really funny.

In Plum's world everyone in her neighborhood has mob connections, too.

What I thought was interesting was that in the first book Stephanie is a naturally good shot. By book two Evanovich had a "better idea" and Stephanie is left without any particular competencies other than dogged tenacity. I gave quite a bit of thought to that and I decided that it was the right thing.

What I've never been able to figure out, though, is where is the Stephanie Plum television show?

MataPam said...

I think they're filming the show.

Stephanie is borderline getting on my nerves for sheer incompetency. I prefer to think she's gun adverse because she killed someone.

I never saw the armed and dangerous grannies as pro-gun control. more like "even grannies can protect themselves." Now Lula... I thought that Evanovich did a good job of displaying both pros and cons.

(and the Diesel book was unfortunately rather similar. I'd hoped it would give her a break and a breather, because the last Plum was same-old-same-old)

Ahem.

In a lot of ways, political messages in books are acceptable if they're your views, and boreing lectures if they aren't. You've got be really subtle to sneak insomething the reader is opposed to and actually make him or her think about it, rather than heave the book.

Stephen Simmons said...

Gerrold's "War With the Chtorr" series has some interludes where characters indulge in political or socio-economic lectures, but they all actually belong there, and they don't overshadow the story. He also covers a broad spectrum of mutually-contradictory viewpoints from various characters along the way, and all of them are presented in a manner that keeps the author's own leanings from leaking through. (If anything, you'd end up thinking Dave was the opposite of what he really is ...)

Chris L said...

George Lucas is often criticised for preaching Jedi philosophy and the wonders of democracy. But the Jedi are a boring lot really. Without Han Solo, Star Wars would have been pretty awful - to which the last three movies attest.

If you go and create a character with the perfect set of attributes to explore, say, the life of an obese person, then have them suddenly start sermonising about the evils of global terrorism, it's going to look pretty ridiculous. (See third series Star Trek Enterprise).

Short fiction might be the best way to exorcise the 'issue of the week' before it gets out of hand.

Chris McMahon said...

I tend to switch off when I see people pontinficating about the latest issue. If it's something that is no longer important tomorrow, why bother? I don't read newspapers or watch the news on TV for pretty much this reason.

Brendan said...

I have always liked Ursula Le Guin's take on matters(whatever her hobby horse was for a particular story) and John Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up"(Environmental issues) was just as insightful when I read it thirty years after it was published as it was the day it was released.

I think the trick seems to be to ground your issues in believable characters and then no matter how nuts the issue, the audience will accept it as part of what should be.

Brendan said...

Another thought: I know you have Pterry down as a good example of Rant of the Week, but I have just finished reading "I Shall Wear Midnight"(sooo good) where he does what he does so well. Terry makes sure that when he is throwing an issue in your face is he keeps you with him by makeing the issue one that resonates with many people(in this book there is abuse, neglect and intolerance) and does so in a way without promoting villains and victims.

Ori Pomerantz said...

I read fiction to be entertained, but I enjoy it when the authors weave some of their expertise into it as long as it is done appropriately.

One of my favorite authors it Tom Kratman. In some ways, his Desert Called Peace series is a lecture on military matters. But it is a very interesting lecture, about an extreme of human behavior of which I am lucky enough to have never experienced. To pick another example, can you imagine Slow Train without the engineering, biology, and sociology? Or 1632 without Eric Flint's union experience? In all three cases, the books wouldn't have worked without the expertise, and the expertise forms the expert's opinions.

The problem isn't with propaganda. It is with badly written propaganda, IMHO.

Kate said...

Francis, Matapan, Rowena, Synova, Chris L, Chris M, Brendan, Ori,

Forgive the mega-reply - I've just got back from the Oz trip and am a tad tired. And fried, and a bunch of other things best not mentioned.

Anywho, you've all hit on the problems with inserting issue of the week and doing it badly. And mentioned some good examples of getting it right.