Tudors Tales and Turpitude – James Schardt
Greetings everyone. Normally, Sarah would either be posting here, herself, or would have someone who, at least, has a blog of their own post here. However, in the interests of keeping her writing the stories we all want to read instead of the unprofitable columns or gif posts she sometimes feels obligated to write, I am stepping in. Sarah, go write. We gots this. *cracks neck*
Brad Torgersen reposted a link to his “Nutty Nuggets” column Sunday. To summarize it, Brad felt that sales of Science Fiction books had gone down because the stories published had drifted away from the themes that had attracted people to Science Fiction in the first place. I am going to expand on this and point out that the same themes that attracted people to Science Fiction are the same themes that attract people to stories in general. And blatantly inserting current issues into a story stands a good chance of marring that story and rendering it preachy and forgettable.
An anecdote was posted last year by an author who had personally delivered a story to an editor, I think it was John Campbell, hoping for it to be published. For his trouble, the editor took him out to lunch. During that lunch, the editor asked him if he could name one story written by a man in a mud hut 4000 years ago that is still sold in airport book stores today. The author looked confused. The editor told him he was talking about “The Iliad” written by the blind poet, Homer. His point was that people wanted to read stories about heroes striving to overcome things. Brad feels that the striving has been lost in a sea of messages that will have difficulty resonating five years after they are written.
This year, the big issue in the news, besides the election, seems to be whether to allow non-op transsexual persons to use the restrooms of the sex they feel they are as opposed to the restrooms and locker rooms they physically are. Three years ago, this wasn’t even on the radar. I would have to look up opinion columns and news stories to be able to tell you what issues were big even five years ago. Time passes and people move on. Laws will be written and passed or rejected. What is controversial today may not be controversial tomorrow. While I cannot tell you how society will eventually deal with this, I can guarantee this will not be a big issue two years from now. This means basing a story on a current issue is probably unwise.
Does this mean you should leave out these issues entirely? No! Look to authors who have remained in the public eye for years, even centuries, after they have died. There are several of Shakespeare’s plays that are, to put it bluntly, nothing more than Tudor propaganda. He set up a whole series of historical plays just to lead up to showing how bad Richard III was and show how justified Henry VII was to take the throne from him.
In his time, one of the major issues was the legitimacy of Queen Elizabeth and the House of Tudor. England had a woman on the throne (scandal!) Her father had broken from the Catholic Church (scandal!) Her grandfather’s claim to the throne was tenuous at best (scandal!). Needless to say, her political enemies, both inside and outside of her kingdom, were happy to use these issues to weaken her power and possibly take her throne from her. But, unless the reader is a serious student of history, nobody remembers this.
We remember the strained relationship between Henry the IV and his son Harry in “Henry IV part I”. We remember King Henry V inspiring his soldiers to overcome the odds against them at Agincourt in “Henry V”. We remember how Richard III’s quest for power and hubris brought about his downfall in “Richard III”. Nobody remembers the politics behind these stories. But that doesn’t mean it was not there. The story came first. The issues were woven in with subtlety. People’s minds were changed. And Elizabeth I is still remembered as one of the greatest monarchs England has ever had.
The legitimacy of the English throne was a topic for discussion, but it didn’t effect that many people outside of the nobility. People eating and not being robbed in the street were what mattered on a day to day basis. It wasn’t that people didn’t care about who their rightful monarch was, they did. It was simply a lower priority. So Shakespeare slipped the message he wanted to put out into his plays. He barely mentioned the Tudors in Richard III. The focus was on how rotten a person Richard Plantagenet was. At the end, his audience was saying “Thank goodness Henry Tudor got rid of THAT guy.” The message, the Tudors are legitimate because the Plantagenets were bad, worked. He didn’t have to beat people over the head with his message. They came to that conclusion themselves.
By contrast, his play “Henry VIII”, is mostly remembered for accidentally burning The Globe Theater to the ground. It is a blunt message play that is simply there to remind people that Queen Elizabeth is, indeed, King Henry’s daughter. It did not resonate at the time and it is largely forgotten now. This is the sort of fiction Brad was talking about when he was saying it wasn’t “Nutty Nuggets” and what others talk about when they say “message fiction”. Making the message the story is simply preaching. If your reader wants preaching they’ll either go to church or listen to the shaggy guy with the sandwich board ranting in the park. Readers want a story. If there is a message, fine, but the reader wants a story first.
Take a timeless theme. A story that would be recognizable to both your grandparents and your children. Put it in a future or fantasy world. Weave your message in with subtlety so it is barely seems to be there. Your story will be memorable and it will plant the seeds you want to grow. The story wins over the message. Always.