Out there in the world, there are Issues. Issues with a capital ‘I’. Hot-button, controversial topics that generally stir up lots of opinions, emotions, and debates. And as writing mimics life (when life isn’t busy mimicking writing), Issues turn up in books as well.
We all know books that are solely about Issues. That’s pretty much all my school book club covers. Abortion, abuse, homophobia, school violence, drugs, etc. It’s gotten to the point where I groan whenever I see a book that is transparently about some Issue. Because Issues are important, but they shouldn’t be the only thing that drives a book. Plot, characters… the story is the most important part. If a book is just an excuse to cram in some message or ideal, just save yourself the time and go buy a nice placard. A story can contain a message, but it shouldn’t be only about a message.
That being said, I stuff Issues in a fair amount of my stories. I do want to tell the readers something besides an entertaining story. I do want to make them think. But to avoid pulling the TV trope ‘Anvilicious’ (smacking them over the head with the moral Aesop-style) I try to hide it. For example, in a project I’ve been tossing around for a while, the Issues I’m criticizing are a lovely mixed bag of pretty much any kind of -ism. But instead of being obvious about it, my different groups wouldn’t be different types of humans. They’d be different species. Or something. Still not a hundred percent sure on that front. But the basic idea is take an issue, camouflage it into something new and different, and then plop it into a story that’s good in its own right.
It’s good to have a cause to fight for. It’s good to have a readable story. Combine the two, and that’s when you’re getting close to great.