Ooops, did I say that?
Ah, yes, those subjects one should never touch. They glow in the dark, radiating with a white-hot intensity, daring the author to slip them into her story. There should be a warning alarm that sounds during these moments, with an automatic computer shut-down that forces the writer to rethink her plans.
There is the risk of offending readers. There is also the risk of climbing on a soap box, where it’s all too easy to sound preachy. There’s nothing worse than being offensive AND boring.
So why not skirt the difficult questions altogether? Because fiction has a plot, and a plot has conflict. Depending on who your characters are, that will often come back to hot button issues like sex, politics, and religion. If an author doesn’t have the honesty to dig to the bottom of their character’s issues, the book will come out as compelling as cream of wheat. So what to do?
There is a trade-off when it comes to addressing “tough” subjects in fiction. I look at it like I would the spice cupboard. A teaspoon is good; dumping in the whole jar is too much. For this reason, I skirt the best-sellers dealing with chronic child abuse and head for the pulp fiction featuring demon abuse. Somehow it’s more okay in a fantasy setting.
Yes, that’s weird and perhaps hypocritical, but taking hot topics one step out of the here and now and putting them in the realm of the fantastic allows us to look at them more dispassionately. After all, much science fiction successfully deals with power struggles (often political ones), environmental issues, and ethics. That’s one of the things I love about the genre—it makes me think, engaging my mind as well as my heart, but it does so in a subtle and entertaining way.
I try to model my stories that way, and on a good day I get it right–I hope! My aim is to bring a complete world into being, with all the good and bad that goes along with it. The big difference is that all those difficult subjects, while present, are never the focus of the story. I write paranormal romance, not social commentary for vampires.
Though it would be interesting to hear what Dr. Phil would have to say about Dracula and his wives. Was locking up three wives in the castle basement the first clue that there was something funky on the domestic front?