Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Please, spare me your speeches ~ by Leah St. James

As I read Barbara’s post yesterday about the upcoming political season (talking about November 2016!), I started thinking about all the unpleasantness to come before the big day rolls around: Complex positions on important issues distilled down to 30-second ads—which are invariably spun into negative ads by the opposing candidates; nonstop phone calls in the evening hours if you’re lucky enough to be in one of those ‘swing” states.

The most annoying (to me) though —“star” musicians and actors telling me I should vote for their candidates because...uh...well, because they’re famous and...uh...probably better looking and rich and...did I say famous already?

I really (really) dislike when celebrity political endorsements, specifically when the celebrities are entertainers.

Yes, yes, yes, I know, I know— they’re people, too, entitled to their opinions with the rights to voice their opinions. And I have free will to switch channels. But when I start to view or listen to a movie/the radio/a concert (etc.), my expectation is enjoyment, not suffering through a sermon of your views on this Democrat vs. that Republican, Libertarian, Independent ... whoever.

I just don’t care what you think. Period.

I also dislike when I start to watch a movie or read a book and find myself deep in a one-sided, sledge-hammering treatment of a particular political or social issue, when it’s clear that the author/screenwriter is pushing a particular agenda (meaning the viewer never gets even a hint of an opposing point of view).

Not only do I not care what you think, but I resent the implication that I need you to spoon-feed me your beliefs.

As a novelist, I believe it’s my job to create a world that’s intriguing or entertaining in some way, fill it with characters to love and/or hate, then put them in situations (or torture them, as the rules say) so a reader will care enough to keep turning pages. My goal is simple:  to entertain, and maybe on a good day to enlighten or enrich in some way. I hope to tell a good story, from a variety of perspectives, not to share with you my personal opinions on political or social-issue topics.

Of course there’s an important place for the exploration of social issues in literature/fiction. Books and movies, and songs, can (and often do) point out injustices or wrongs to those who might not have seen them otherwise.

Think  of the movies Schindler’s List (based on “Schindler’s Ark” by Thomas Keneally), or Norma Rae (based on “Crystal Lee, a Woman of Inheritance by New York Times reporter Henry P. Leifermann). 

When done well, the viewers/readers shouldn’t feel like they’ve been lectured; they should feel enlightened, even if the truths are hard to accept.

Sometimes a point can be made with laughter. The movie 9 to 5 comes to mind – a comedy starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman about three overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated office workers who suffer through their male boss’s misogynist behavior.

The movie also addresses serious social issues (then and now), but it “teaches” through laughter and entertainment. At the end, you get the message.

So if you want my attention, don’t lecture me about your personal beliefs, even if you can sing like an angel. Tell me a good story that makes me laugh, or cry. Tell me a story that makes me think.

I write stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the redeeming power of love. Please visit me at


Margo Hoornstra said...

My thoughts/beliefs/ideas exactly, Leah. With so many of us thinking the same way, you'd think the politicos and such would take the hint. Oh, no, wait. They're so out of touch, there's no chance of that. Let's hear it for our free will abilities to shut them out.

Barbara Edwards said...

Thank you, Leah, for the great post. I agree one hundred percent. I also hate the TV shows that pound on a theme that is offensive to me. I also hit the off button.

LK Hunsaker said...

Yes, there's a big difference between lecturing and teaching. Too many don't get that, writers and otherwise.

I write lit fic mixed with romance and I warn readers to expect social issues, but I always try to look at or offer both sides (maybe even 3-4 sides). One side will always come through more, but if it comes out as a Story and informational as far as sharing personal experience, readers can disagree with certain viewpoints without throwing the book at the wall. With any luck. ;-)

Jannine Gallant said...

Great point about authors treading carefully with their beliefs if they don't want to piss people off. In my current WIP, my heroine is an aide to a congressman running for president. Oh oh, right? How was I going to handle this without half the voting population who pick up my book being mad that he belongs to the opposing party. I made him an Independent candidate. Now everyone can be mad! LOL Don't worry, I don't preach politics in this book. Someone is trying to kill the guy. I'm sure everyone can relate to the concept of people wanting to kill a politician, right? Great post, Leah!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Leah, nice post. We make a point with a good, don't tell, we writers always say. Be that as it may, I'm convinced that along with our unique voices, our views come through our books. Can't help it. World vision, theme, them what we will, those threads weave through our books. Taken together, our stories tell a story about us.

Leah St. James said...

Margo, the lack of ability (I guess) to relate to us little people (grin) goes back to the whole inside/outside the Beltway thinking. When I lived in the Metro D.C. area (a couple DECADES ago now), our "local" news was about what the congressional representatives were doing and saying. It really is (or was back then) a different mindset. I guess it's human nature to start see yourself as loftier than the rest of the country, and then easier to start ignoring them!

Leah St. James said...

See what you started, Barbara? : _0 Thank goodness we have so many choices to watch and listen to these days! :-)

Leah St. James said...

Sounds like you're doing it the right way, LK. I'm not totally shallow so that I don't ever want to read anything serious! (Or at least most of the time. :-)) But when a serious topic is broached, I like to be presented with a complete picture. I also think you're smart to let the reader know you're going to touch on those topics. That way if someone were to really object, he/she can simply choose to NOT read.

Leah St. James said...

You're brave, Jannine!! :-) A politician on the run for his life....hmmm...must add to my TBR pile!

I like the way ABC's Scandal handles the politics. The party of power is named (Republican...right?,) but Shonda Rhimes handles the issues really well, I think. She writes the characters as real people who often have conflicting beliefs and emotions--between each other and themselves.

Leah St. James said...

I agree, Rolynn. We're human, and we each bring a unique perspective to our writing. Those experiences can't help but color our handling of an issue, but I think if we're conscious about not preaching, it's fine. Those personal experiences often make for the most compelling stories.

Susan Coryell said...

As I feel strongly about certain social issues (like women's rights and de-funding of education), I find it hard not to slip in how I REALLY feel when I write fiction. Chalk it up to theme! Thanks for posting.

Diane Burton said...

I hate being bombarded by political ads, opinions, etc. I also hate that campaigning starts as soon as one election is over. I wish we could limit campaigning to 4 weeks max before an election. If they can't convince us in that amount of time, they don't deserve to win.

I used to think it was only our time that politics were so nasty. If you read about the very early elections in US history, you'll find ours are mild in comparison. I still wish we didn't have to listen to campaign ads for so long.

Leah St. James said...

I think as long as the reader is aware of the theme, that's great, Susan! I just don't like expecting one thing and getting another. But I think that's true in general. A reader expecting a hot romantic suspense and get cozy mystery might be disappointed!

Leah St. James said...

Me too, Diane! The "election cycle" is too long! It's not like the candidates visit more than the swing states anyway, so why do we need such a lead time? And you're right, politics has been a nasty business forever. :-)