I don’t write message fiction. In fact, a lot of the actual criticism of my book (when there is any, most folk just love it!) hits when people read it as if they’re braced for some sort of lecture on morality from me… and they don’t find one other than bad guys with lots of power are bad, and scrappy underdogs are good.
Which even that’s not meant to be a takeaway in most instances. I do like to root for the underdog. It seems an intrinsically American way to think, and you see it in our culture all the time. Spider-Man is the nerd weakling who shouldn’t be able to beat up the big bad monsters. We always root against the New York Yankees or New England Patriots because they bought their perennial powerhouse teams and we want the little guy to win. There’s nothing moral or immoral about rooting either way in those instances — but seeing the underdog work their tails off to victory is fulfilling and a lot of fun.
And that’s the key. That’s why I wrote that story — because it’s fun.
When you get into message fiction, you’re intrinsically taking away some fun from your reader as you’re trying to tell the reader how to behave, what good and evil is pertaining to a certain situation, and usually through very thin allegories that are metaphors that are painful. Star Trek: Into Darkness I’m looking at you with your nine-eleven oh noeeeeeeees commentary that made the film unwatchable.
And it varies in degree. The problem is that message fiction, for the most part, talks down to the reader. You are trying to layer in “obvious” things to a reader in a way that almost necessitates insulting their intelligence. Otherwise they would understand the message and be cheering for it themselves, right? And if they did, you’ve got a boring story to that group of readers as well, because they already understand the message.
I’m currently reading The Black Witch by Laurie Forest, which is certainly marketed as message fiction after some hate reviewer went nuts on it and said it’s not messagy enough. So far though, it’s been very layered in the background and I’m watching more of an underdog adventure story unfold. And I’m glad for it. If it looked preachy I wouldn’t be all that into it.
As a writer, it’s impossible not to layer some form of message in there. You have your thoughts, and they’re gonna come across. It’s how writing works. Almost weekly I get told by a reader how they’re surprised that I’m so anti-corporatist. My main villains in my book are a mega-corporation that lost sight of what it means to be human in their narrow-visioned lives that are consumed by their near-meaningless work.
Of course I’m anti-corporatist. Big corporations are total train wrecks both in that they stifle creativity and range from inefficient in the way they’re run to downright oppressive. Don’t think that the phone you’re reading this on isn’t built on the backs of some Chinese factory worker who’s barely surviving because of garbage trade agreements that allow companies to operate that way. A lot of my readership wants me to blame the government and not the corporation — but I posit to you that when you get into monopolistic entities of a certain size or oligopolies — you’re getting the exact same thing as a bloated government clutching to power. Remember that the Trade Federation in my book both is corporation and government combined. They wield both powers and that is dangerous.
Now I didn’t set out to wag my finger and give that moral in the book to anyone. That never even crossed my mind once while writing it. Those are just my private thoughts that upon thinking about it, I’m sharing with you, my dear blog reader, who understands this is a personal space where you can get a little sense as to how I think. The vast majority of folk read Rescue Run and don’t notice that or don’t care about that — because I didn’t beat people over the head with it and feature THE MESSAGE. It was just unintentional that it came out in the work because of who I am.
In conclusion, I’m definitely not telling writers to not write about what they care about — you should, and that passion will come through in the work. But you should be very careful in considering your readership and the priority should be a fun story, especially in Fantasy/Science-Fiction. Most readers in this genre are here for escape from the relentless negativity in the news, the drudgery of real life work, the lack of purpose they’re finding in modern society. It’s our duty as authors to provide them fun, and that should be our priority. If it stops being a priority, well, look at the sales decline across the industry. ’nuff said.