Written by Doug Irvin
How To Write Message Fiction
(the Right way)
One of the greatest hurdles those known as Social Justice Warriors fail to recognize, is the innate power of a well crafted tale. A good story can raise the spirits high to achieve great goals, it can cause soul-wracking grief when readers identify closely with sympathetic characters and their woes – and it can strongly influence a persons beliefs and core values.
Yet as powerful as storytelling can be, the actual process is held in apparent disdain by the social left.
For years – decades even – story tellers have leaned further and further left in the intent of their stories, and they have left the intrinsic story to further social values of their choosing. Science fiction and fantasy, in particular, has fallen prey to this influence. What was once considered the pinnacle of praise to writers and readers alike, the Hugo awards, have been changed to cliquish self aggrand- izement as judges and sponsors presented each other award after award. When called out on this, they blatantly denied it, then proceeded the very next session to do it again. Apparently fans weren’t expected to question what their superiors were doing. And writer after writer found themselves pressed into a rote programming of story scenes and sequences that resembled cookies pressed into the same shape, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.
But the best writers in the past still managed to convey their beliefs and convictions to their readers.
Although he is held in great disregard now by many in the publishing industry, Robert Anson Heinlein was singularly instrumental in stamping his beliefs across a wide spectrum of readers, of many societies and cultures.
His characters were crafted carefully, appeared sympathetic and identifiable, and led many into roles of technology and social engineering in unconscious imitation of his characters.
Yet his characters were very outside the norms in terms of the societal values in which he wrote.
An example is the characters in Tunnel In The Sky, a story intended for young people.
In it the main character, Rod Walker is revealed to be a somewhat uncertain teen. His family background, although presented as a typical grouping, are members of a mid-eastern sect that migrated to the west. His sister is a warrior woman – an officer trained in war and military strategy. And definitely NOT a submissive flower of femininity. Until you find out differently in the last chapters.
Marooned on a deadly planet, his eventual cohorts are untypical as well. When he takes on the role of colony leader – lost and marooned, yes, but emigrating was the intent of every participant – his lieutenant is an aggressively capable black woman who is outspoken when she’s convinced she’s right. Again, NOT a submissive hot house flower.
The readers manage to identify with Rod and the other characters regardless of their own ethnicity. In a later interview with a fellow writer, he revealed that he considered Rod to be a young BLACK man. While there are very subtle clues in the story, it is never stated. Nor is it not stated. The audience is left to assume.
Yet despite a career spanning decades, and winning massive awards from compatriots and audiences, Heinlein’s method of telling stories is spurned. Too bad, because like Martin Luther King he heavily influenced post war societies in the US and abroad.
When he first wrote his juvenile stories, he identified as a Democrat – even running for office as one. His beliefs later identified with thee libertarian philosophy. And the only time anyone on the left speaks of him – if forced to – he is mentioned as a racist, a misogynist, and a war monger.
Quite opposite his own beliefs.
The film world likewise has made major changes in style and impact over the same decades, influenced by the general permissive and progressive tone.
Shows today quite often portray people within the accepted and programmed standard.
If you have a white male, he is generally shown to be greedy, grasping, prejudiced and lustful. If he is in finance, he is doubly accursed. Except for white men who are gay. They are portrayed sympathetically, even ones to be imitated and identified with. But the characters as drawn are neither sympathetic nor identifiable.
In nearly every case characters of various ethnic genotypes are promoted and expected to be identifiable. Yet they aren’t. In trying to push a progressive agenda that is far from color, gender or ethnically neutral, movie makers are losing their shirts at the box office. Despite the rallying outcries of supporters of the cause, their numbers are not enough to even offset the cost of the popcorn.
I give you, in contrast, an American movie icon. John Wayne.
Wayne – real name Marion Robert Morrison, then changed to Marion Mitchell Morrison – became known for a series of early strong man roles. He later headed up westerns and other frontier style stories. Despite the roles played, he did his best to play them sympathetically. In his later years as an actor, people so understood his character, he HAD to play the strong man. Even if his character fell, the impact was carried on by his companions. Check out Sands of Iwo Jima and The Cowboys.
The pinnacle of John Wayne’s movie and persona is found in a story produced by his son Michael and including son Patrick and daughter Aissa.
The story is quite opposite of how progressives view Wayne. He is accepting of different races, has respect for, and is respected by former enemies, and lives a strict moral code – well, except for getting drunk regularly.
But his work philosophy is excellently depicted in one scene. When his son Patrick, playing the part of Devlin Warren, pleads for a job and gets it, he turns around and tries to strike McLintock. He’s thrown over his horse for his troubles. When asked why he wanted to bash the man giving him a job, He explains he couldn’t stomach crawling before anyone, even for a job. During the ensuing dialog he learns that even the successful rancher Wayne plays considers himself working for a boss – every one wanting a steak.
The point is, John Wayne’s character portrayals were sympathetic, struck an identifiable chord within the watchers, persuaded every movie goer watching him that Wayne was the man they most admired.
Yet it was a craftily devised characterization. True, Wayne became the role – but it started as a role, a persona.
And that is what progressives involved in the arts, writing as well as acting, can’t seem to understand.
Message fiction HAS TO BE SYMPATHETIC to the audience, or you have no audience.
Characters don’t even have to be heroic, but they have to be sympathetic to the audience.
One last example of this is Edward E. Smith’s story The Skylark Of Space. ‘Doc’ knew characters can be bad as well as good; wholesome as well as avaricious.
Thus he created the character of Marc “Blackie” Duquesne. Fellow scientist with the main character, Richard Seaton, Duquesne’s character was driven by personal gain. But it is portrayed sympathetically as a character trait others identified with.
Even the rather numerous times Duquesne tried to kill Seaton and his companions, they still accepted his word of honor during times of alliance. Yes, he immediately tried to kill them again once the alliance met its goal, he was still a sympathetic – and in many ways, urbane and suave.
I really don’t expect liberals and progressives to learn from this; they are too set in their program to divert, even when it would serve their purposes. This is a matter of entertaining the many people enjoying a good story. And explain why they won’t find it on the other philosophical divide.