Apr 17, 2014

Dealing With Issues

I'd like to share some thoughts that have come to mind while I've been having trouble with my next WIP.

The book, Carver & McCain, was going to be a police procedural with strong urban fantasy elements, dealing with issues of prejudice in how paranormals cope with the way mundane humans treat them. I had my privileged, ex-SWAT officer, recently transferred to the paranormal crimes division, and his werewolf partner who would have to put up with his anti-paranormal attitude.

The problem was, I feel, the issue of prejudice was never going to be confronted by the characters. They would learn to respect and eventually like each other, but the more I wrote, the more I realized I was hitting out a lot of stuff about how hard life was for paranormals and how readily normal humans would turn on them, without my characters deciding to do something about it.

In short, it felt like I was preaching.

Lady Raven, on the other hand, is different. Although Cora lives a precarious existence within the Empire's strict rules for women, the story is about her defiance. The point is to show that she's not willing to stand by and let this tyranny continue. While her quest starts out on a personal level, to protect her mother, it will grow to become far greater, and she will grow from a reactionary child to a young woman of power and agency, fighting for a cause.

Of course authors should tackle difficult issues in their work. But are the characters simply enduring the problem, or are they doing something about it? For me, reading (and writing) is escapism. It's about seeing characters do the things I never could. That's why I write the kind of adventure stories I write. I can't defeat sexism or social injustice in one fell swoop. But I can write characters who can. I can write characters who, instead of accepting that their world has problems and trying to ignore them, stand up and make a change by fighting representations of those problems.

To me, that is the difference between tackling an issue, and preaching about it.

So for now, I think Carver & McCain will be shelved. I'll come back to it when I've got some perspective and distance, and can come at it fresh. I have another idea cooking away that could make a suitable replacement for my next book.


  1. Interesting.

    I'm not entirely sure about "authors should tackle difficult issues in their work," to be honest. There's a lot to be said for good, old fashioned storytelling. I think, and this is obviously a personal statement, that if an author writes a book aiming to expound upon the injustice they feel regarding gender/racial/disabled/whatever prejudice, or the plight of the Third World, or Global Warming, then they're already preaching and it's going to take a lot of work to avoid that.

    Back when I started writing the Thaumatology books I knew I wanted it to be a world where the supernatural had been around long enough, and had proven itself useful enough, that the majority of the younger generation were sanguine about it. Older folks who remembered the cataclysm which brought magic back to the world could be iffy about it still, and there was prejudice still there on a personal and societal level, but generally it was hidden away beneath the surface. Ceri meets it in the first book; it's actually an older person there pointing out that his fellows are idiots. It rears up again in Hammer of Witches (along with homophobia) and Ancient, with a vengeance. I don't push any of it, but it's there.

    In the Steel series there's a running theme about beauty and what it actually is. Ugly is actually a bit more obvious about that.

    To be honest, I prefer to tell a good story and maybe let my readers draw the conclusions they want to than focussing on a social ill I feel I need to fix. I get rather annoyed with the amount of political agenda-pushing I'm faced with as it is, I don't need my escapes from the real world ramming the real world down my throat as well.

    Which is possibly what you were saying, but I think your problem is that you wanted to write a book about prejudice, not a book about a mystery which happens to be set in a world where there is prejudice against some group.

    My 2p. Take it as you wish.

    1. Basically yes, we're saying the same thing :-) And that's exactly what was wrong with Carver & McCain. The idea was "issue first, story second." And I can't write a book that way.

      I believe an author's own feelings on particular issues are likely to bleed into their work. And it's best to let that happen naturally while telling the best story you can.

    2. Sooner or later we were bound to agree on something. ;-)

    3. Sooner or later we were bound to agree on something. ;-)