Sunday, November 7, 2021

Current Affairs in Crime Fiction

You’re writing a novel set in the current time. Do you include covid, politics, climate change among the background or foreground parts of the environment? If so, why? If not, why?

Brenda Chapman starting off the week.

Most of my novels are written in a vaguely current time frame. While I haven't shied away from topical issues, I haven't specifically tackled the climate change issue except in passing. As for politics, I don't get into this much either. The pandemic is something I blog about on my personal Saturday morning blog but haven't so far included in my books. 

Just what am I writing about you ask?

My focus in writing crime fiction are the puzzle and the characters. Occasionally, an issue, such as forced marriage or sexual exploitation of teenage girls, has been a major part of the plot, but in the context of the crime. 

Climate change is mentioned in relation to the changing weather but isn't a major plot point -- or hasn't been up to this point. 

As for politics, I live in a government town, the capital of Canada, and worked in the federal government for 18 years, give or take. I know a lot about the inner workings of the system and include references to those working in one department or another. I'm not interested in espousing my own political views through my work, although in the upcoming book, Blind Date, I take a bit of a crack at the far right mindset, although in the context of the crime.

I believe that my main objective as a crime fiction author is to entertain, to take readers out of their everyday lives to live in a fictional world with a puzzle at its centre. I want to create characters whom readers grow to care about, root for, despise, have empathy for ... My characters are flawed -- some are really flawed -- but always interesting, and hopefully sympathetic. If these characters got into the politics of the day and tried to convince readers to lean one way or the other politically, I don't believe this would make for great entertainment.

The debate about setting stories during the pandemic began with the pandemic's onset. The inability to gather during the lockdowns would have made interesting challenges for fictional investigations. I've read a couple of books that allude to the beginning of the pandemic but none that place the story in the middle of the outbreak. I'm not averse to doing so, but my stories to date have not been grounded in a specific year. If the pandemic was integral to the story, however, then I would certainly set the book squarely in the middle.

Crime fiction can be used to raise an issue or to shed light on a current situation, but an author must be careful not to overdo. Less can be more in getting a point across. I hate being preached to and believe most readers would agree with this sentiment. I liken espousing a point of view in fiction to putting too much research into the book so that readers are taken out of the story. The message needs to be subtly delivered with a deft hand. This is the challenge, but when well done, can be effective and make for great reading that leaves a lasting impression and perhaps has readers looking at an issue, a prejudice, a strongly held belief in a new light. 


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Susan C Shea said...

Good points! Your last paragraph resonates especially because I'm reading a thriller that debuted at #1 on the NYT lis and is, alas, weighted down by Beltway political struggles, almost wonky data dumps, and barbed references to the last administration. While I happen to agree with that latter POV, I'm realizing it really has to be tempered with great writing (CATCH 22) or humor (Carl Hiassen's SQUEEZE ME) to work in fiction. Living totally in the real world these days is enervating!

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Susan - great writing is like ballet. You don't see all the practice and sweat that goes into the final show :-)