At the risk of ticking off lots of fellow writers…
I’m beginning to wonder what happened to storytelling — weaving a good tale to entertain people — outside of genre fiction. I’ve been doing a lot more reading of works in progress and published short stories in the past few months, largely thanks to the writers networking on Google+. It seems like among general fiction many writers are trying to express a theme or a message and try to tell a story to fit that theme or message. This might just be me, but those pieces turn me off. They feel self-conscious, as though they’re trying too hard. Instead of getting lost in the characters and story, I hear the message.
Back after the Giffords shooting, screenwriter Jesse Stern had expressed frustration on Twitter about the tone of the national dialogue, and got several people suggesting he use his role as a writer for NCIS to tackle the topic. His response, which I thought was spot-on, was “While I’m all for smuggling meaning, depth of character and complex ideas into entertainment programs, it’s the wrong platform for preaching.”
He’s right on both counts. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy letting my characters wrestle with difficult issues. That’s part of life. But I’ve never set out to do that. Even in Thrown Out, where three of the four stories tackle tough issues, they didn’t start out that way. They started with characters acting true to themselves and running into situations that put them in conflict. Maybe I’m just a genre writer at heart who doesn’t write in a genre.