We care what happens to people only in proportion as we know what people are. — Henry James
Many of the short stories in my collection Beyond the Tripping Point deal with children who get the short end of the stick – missing children, abused children – and trying to save them as well as punishing the perpetrators. For example, in “Unfinished Business,” the protagonist has run away from something terrible that happened to her as a child. When the same evil threatens her daughter, she is forced to do something. Two of the linked stories (“Gone Missing,” “Saving Grace”), featuring fraternal twins Dana Bowman and Bast Overture, and Dana’s seven-year-old son David also focus on finding and saving children. These two stories have an extra kicker as David has been left psychologically mute because of his own bad experience in the prequel novel which I am now working on.
My cause is the safety of children. When I started writing my short stories and the novel I didn’t set out to include this cause. I didn’t realize it was my cause. Many authors have a social cause and they want to get their point across in a short story or novel. The trick is to do so without lecturing or preaching. You don’t want your story bogged down by a character going on ad nauseam about capital punishment, global warming, etc.
How do you get around this?
Make your cause a part of your character and plot. For example, if you are against capital punishment, your protagonist could be a defence lawyer who tries to get the death sentence off the table, or better still, prove the client is innocent. And I don’t mean copying Perry Mason. Or if your cause is justice isn’t there or doesn’t work in the legal system, your protagonist could be a private investigator who goes beyond the law when catching guilty perpetrators. For global warming, your protagonist could be a meteorologist or a geoscientist who has a passion for global warming – for or against.
That’s the characters. Now you have to work them into a plot. The global warming could be a “what if “story, even science fiction (although these days what is happening with weather may kill the science fiction angle – unless you take it to extremes, the world freezing over into snow (already been done in a movie starring Dennis Quaid. Use your imagination. Your protagonist can be the one predicting something like this will happen. Or he or she could be called in by the government to help solve the problem. Or for a twist – he or she could be doing something to escalate or cause the problem (there’s an idea for science fiction).
What runs through stories involving a cause is timeliness. If you set it in the present, your “cause” needs to be something that is going on in the world now. If the cause is something that was dominant in the past, you need to set your stories then. This is something I do with the fraternal twins’ stories and novel. In the novel, part of the plot has to do with something that was big news in the late 1990s, I’m not telling you what, but I will say that it does have to do with children in danger and I also work in other aspects of children in danger, such as kidnappings – something that is unfortunately, always timely.
Another angle for your protagonist and plot is to build in some foreseeing of the future with your protagonist and plot. In the popular Murdock Mysteries TV series, set at the turn of the century (that’s going from the 19th to the 20th century) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the protagonist Detective William Murdock, has great respect for the murdered victim (he is a staunch Catholic who makes the sign of the cross when he first sees the dead body). So he is motivated to find the killer and bring him or her to justice. However, Detective Murdock is a far-seeing investigator who uses pioneering methods (some of which he devises, some already just coming into investigating procedures elsewhere) such as fingerprints to help solve the crime
I suggest you read books by authors who do some of the above and watch some TV series, although with the latter, especially, you need to be careful the writers did their research and got it right. But that is a subject for a future post.
Meantime, check out the three parts of an interview I did last fall (links below), just as my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) came out. I talk about my characters, plots and yes, Murdock Mysteries, one of my favourite TV series. Read some of the books by its creator, Maureen Jennings – she has other series’ mysteries published as well and co-developed a story concept which became the Bomb Girls TV series. Check out Maureen Jennings at http://www.maureenjennings.com/
And check out my online TV interview on thatchannel.com posted in three parts on You Tube at:
Sharon A Crawford Beyond the Tripping Interview No. 1 on Liquid Lunch on thatchannel.com.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScuE2g4cWtc&feature=youtu.be
Sharon Reading from Beyond the Tripping Point on Liquid Lunch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgOKYgBfAwY&feature=youtu.be
Sharon A Crawford Beyond the Tripping Interview No. 2 on Liquid Lunch on thatchannel.com http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xMhcTRANMY&feature=youtu.be
And don’t forget: clicking on the book cover at the top of this post, links you to Beyond the Tripping Point on www.amazon.com.
Sharon A. Crawford