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“Show, Don’t Tell” About Social Issues in Your Fiction
April 9, 2:30 PM - 4:00 PM
Kassandra Lamb, retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer, presented seven lessons she has learned about including social issues in fiction: show, don’t tell; do your research; make readers care about the character; don’t stereotype; keep it balanced; expect some push back; and be open to learning from your characters.
“Authors must show readers how a social issue affects people’s lives,” she said, “rather than tell the author’s opinion on that social issue.” She noted that telling may annoy a reader who has a different viewpoint. She said no author wants his or her book to be put down in disgust—not over the development of the fictional situations and characters but—by the author’s offering personal opinions.
Lamb urged the careful development of a character who espouses an opinion on a contentious social issue. If the issue is one of contemporary importance and significant polarization (e.g., future of Obamacare, Trump, immigration, or who bears the burden of a tax reform), this is especially important.
If the reader agrees with the viewpoint in the book, he/she may not care whether the opinion comes from a character in the book or the author. But the reader is more likely to accept an opposing viewpoint if the character in the book has the standing and credibility to speak to the social issue—such as a farmer who needs immigrant workers discussing immigration or the head of a hospital discussing health care.
Lamb is the author of the Kate Huntington mysteries and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries. She has also published a guidebook for novice writers, Someday Is Here! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Publishing Your First Book. You can find out more about Lamb and her books at http://kassandralamb.com. She blogs about psychology and writing at http://misteriopress.com.
Thanks to M. W. Gordon for summarizing this talk.