Thursday, August 30, 2012

Enough With the "Issues," Already.

I thought I'd seen a peak on this twenty years ago. (20! Yipes!)
But, apparently, it's still an Important Thing to some authors.
That Important Thing being...the "issues" your books deal with.

If I had a dollar for every author who tried to convince me her novel was a serious book because it dealt with "issues" on some level...well, I probably wouldn't be able to retire on it, but I could at least buy dinner.
Probably a couple of times. If not more.
And I just wish we'd all Get Over this.

RWA went through this phase during that 20-year-ago period I talk about, to the point where there was a special mention during the awards ceremonies of what "issue" each of the RITA award nominees centered around. It was pretentious, embarrassing, and--mostly--a bore.
I classified that under an exaggerated idea of one's own importance  then, and I still do.

People, we're fiction writers. We make stuff up.
In the case of romance writers, we make stuff up that has to do with some of the "softer" emotions of life, albeit also with conflicts that need resolution, with some character growth, and with happy endings.
In many cases, what we're retelling bears more resemblance to a fairy tale than it does to anything real, gritty, or down in the trenches.
That's not a criticism, however.
That's a strength.
Why can't we just go with it?

Why are we seemingly ashamed that that's "all" we do?

Fiction writers serve a purpose on their own, without having to appropriate additional meanings, layers, or significances to their work.
Romance writers in particular serve a purpose on their own. Who doesn't love a love story?
Even guys who disavow "chick flicks," when cornered, have some sentiment in their souls.
And all kinds of people love happy endings.
That's because we, as human beings, need them. 

We always claim to be the generation who needs them "as never before," but let's not kid ourselves about that, either. Romance stories endure because human nature needs, craves, and is reassured by a happy ending. It needs the brightness, and it has for thousands of years. That's why many great romance stories are also the stuff of great literature. 

But even if "all" we're writing are paperback romances, murder mysteries, cozies, adventure stories, or thrillers that are here today and gone tomorrow...
If that's our calling...
That's still a perfectly good and valid reason to keep writing.
And it's still a perfectly good and honorable way to make a living.

Sheer enjoyment is highly underrated in today's society, and in certain circles of certain societies, it always was. But that hardly makes it unimportant.
Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, after all. Go on. Tell the Holy Spirit that that's not important. I want to be a fly on the wall when you do that. :-)

I don't think, when we get to our last judgment, God's going to ask us what "issues" we dealt with in our fiction...and burn off everything else.
I think God's going to ask us if we used our gift to its fullest--whatever we wrote.
And if we did, I think that's going to be just fine.
We won't have to justify, excuse, or apologize for that.
And we shouldn't now, either.

Please understand this. If you're writing a story that happens to come out of some trauma, some struggle, some issue, and you've delved into the dark sides or tough sides of things in the process--that's great, too. That's what great storytelling can do for us.
But that doesn't mean that in order to be great, storytelling has to have more to it than a simply wonderful yarn, well-told.
Putting yourself into the box of having to have an "issue" to make your stories "important" is just another way of handcuffing yourself--and in the process, dishonoring the craft and the stories God's giving you in the first place.

Don't do it.
Don't fall victim to the pressure.
You don't need to tell me an "issue story" to hook me. In fact, one of the main reasons I will AVOID certain books is because they're specifically presented as dealing with a specific theme, "issue," or aspect of society.

When I want social commentary, I'll read the op-ed pages.
I don't want that in my stories...at least not superimposed upon a tale that would be perfectly good without any added "weight" that's artificially applied or implied.
For the same reason I despise "study questions," I despise issue books.
If you want me to read yours, don't tell me about the issue.
If I'm meant to get that message, I'll get it.
If not, and I enjoy your story anyway....
...maybe it was a perfectly fine tale in and of itself.
Which is, after all, what we're supposed to be doing in the end, anyway.

So can we please get over this?
Before we stifle all the life--all the "juice," whimsy, and fun--out of our books in a mistaken effort to make them "important"?

What you do is already important enough, if you're telling the best stories you can, in a way that fires your blood and makes you excited to read and write every single day.
If you're not feeling this anymore, then stop telling stories. Period.
Don't try to make them "important" or "valuable" by layering on additional "relevance."
Because what the world definitely does NOT need is another "issue" novel.
EVER.

Thoughts?
Janny

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