Thursday, February 1, 2018

Random Writing Tips – Beware soapboxes

When I was a teenager in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I read a bunch of World War III novels.  For a while, that was a sub-genre.  They were usually either about some nutjob – American or Soviet – starting a nuclear war with the delusional belief that they and their people would survive, or about some accident or mistake that sets off World War III.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union this sub-genre faded away. 

About ten years ago, I was at a library book sale and I came across a novel dealing with terrorism.  Some Al-Qaeda group was working to release a bioweapon in the US and this private security firm was fighting to stop them.  I read the blurb and wondered how this new terrorism sub-genre would stand up against the old World War III sub-genre.

The overall plot was your standard “good guys win, bad guys lose” type thing, so that was different from the “everybody loses” of the World War III stories.  But the big thing that stuck out about the book is that at least one of the authors had a HUGE problem with the Tailhook Scandal.  As I said, the good guys were this private security firm, most of whom were ex-military.  We’re introduced to the first guy and we’re given his name, a description, stuff about his wife and kids, and how he personally knew someone who had their career ruin by the liberals and the feminazis over the Tailhook “nonsense,” and then we continue with the story.  We’re introduced to the second guy on the team, and we’re given his name, a description, some defining moment from his childhood, and then how he grew disillusioned with the government in how they treated the military when they bent over backwards to appease the political correct crowd over the Tailhook issue, and then we continue with the story.  And that continued, basically for everyone.  Whether they were fifty or twenty, had seen combat or not, everyone in this eight man team had some opinion on this over decade old “liberal smear campaign on the military.” It got to the point I was looking forward to the Al-Qaeda sections because whenever they introduced a new character, they didn’t spend a page or so talking about their feelings towards the Tailhook Scandal.

Now I understand how some feel the response to the Tailhook Scandal went too far, while others feels it didn’t go far enough.  That’s true for every scandal, tragedy, or any widely reported news event.  I am not saying that if you have, say, an unpopular opinion about any of these things that you should just keep quiet.  And I’m not saying that if you write a novel you can’t bring elements of these opinions into it.  But you can go too far.  If there was one character in this book who had thoughts about the Tailhook Scandal, fine.  But when it’s a defining element in half your characters, it becomes less a novel and more a soapbox.  And who really wants to read a soapbox?

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