26 September 2015

The Joy of Story (in which our intrepid Bad Girl steps out on a serious limb for a change)

by Melodie Campbell

Don’t Lecture - Entertain Me!

This post is meant to raise discussion. Please chime in!

Who doesn’t love a good story? Something that takes you out of yourself and lets you live another life for a little while. You can do me no greater honour than to call me a great storyteller.

A while ago, I was asked to comment on the purpose of crime fiction, for the inaugural issue of Noir Magazine. Should fiction always contain a moral message? Specifically, should crime fiction?

My instant answer: No! The main purpose of crime fiction should be to Entertain, and nothing should come before that.

Why? We have countless other venues that preach morality. Religions seek to teach us how to behave. Every day we are bombarded by newspapers, radio and other nonfiction outlets, that expose us to the ‘evil’ of greedy politicians, nasty world despots and out of control celebrities.

If fiction – and crime fiction in particular – was required to follow a moral code, we would miss so much. If the good guy always won – if the bad guy always got caught – wouldn’t that make crime fiction lamentably predictable?

Does that mean crime fiction can’t teach us something? Of course it can! Put me in the mind of a serial killer for a few hours. Let me know what it feels like to experience the overwhelming greed of a con artist. Dress me up as a torch singer, with a black heart and a gun in her stocking.

Let me discover something about how other people think, if only for a little while. Because isn’t that the wonderful thing about all great literature? The best literature takes us completely out of ourselves and forces us to view the world from a different perspective. If done well enough, that experience changes us.

In my own fiction, I strive to make that happen.

And I challenge you to do the same. Make me walk in another person's shoes for a few hours. But above all else, entertain me. Don’t preach at me, even from a distance. I don’t want it from my fiction.

Just tell me a damn good story, thank you. Take me out of the real world for a few hours.

That’s the joy of story.

Ever wondered what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a mob goddaughter? Check out the award-winning Goddaughter series below:

When I was a girl, my favorite movie was The Pink Panther.
Great-uncle Franco owned a movie theatre in town. He had a knock-off reel. We’d beg him to play that film on the big screen. I probably saw it thirty times. It became an obsession with me.
When other girls dressed up for Halloween as Princesses, I was decked out in head-to-toe black. With a mask.
“Girls can’t be cat-burglars,” my cousin Paulo told me.
“Yeah?” I yelled back. “What about Mad Magda?”
“She’s not real,” Paulo sneered. “She’s just a legend, like Santa Claus. Only boys are burglars.”
This obviously did some serious damage. Because of course, I had to prove him wrong, even if it took me twenty years to do it.



  1. If crime fiction were somehow required to contain a lesson for the reader, which I don't know how a rule like that could possibly be enforced, people would complain that the stories weren't realistic. Who doesn't know somebody who has gotten away with murder, or at least with illegal behavior? Or with behavior that is legal, but shouldn't be? I can think of several that I know personally, or that I'm related to.

    I see you're in Oakville, Ontario. Have you been to Empire Bakery? We got our wedding cake from them.

  2. I enjoyed your post, Melodie. I'd say that by taking us out of ourselves for a while, fiction (of course including crime fiction) can in fact have a powerful moral effect. When we see things from other people's perspectives, we're encouraged to recognize the humanity of those who aren't like us, and the range of our sympathies expands. That's got to have a good effect on our characters. And I'd say crime fiction doesn't have to get preachy or simplistic in order to subtly remind us of important moral truths that we probably know already but are all too prone to forget--that bad people triumph when good people are passive, that a person can smile and smile and yet be a villain, and so on. The plot and characters can express such ideas powerfully, whether or not the author ever makes them explicit.

  3. Elizabeth, I don't know them, and I'm going to look them up immediately!

  4. BK - the opposite argument to my point in Noir Magazine seemed to be that people look to crime fiction for some sort of comfort, in that justice will prevail in fiction, when it may not in real life. Certainly, many readers may feel that comfort, after reading many works of crime fiction. (But probably not mine! grin)
    I like your interpretation very much: that the range of our sympathies expands.

  5. Provocative post, Melodie.

    The NÂș1 duty is to entertain. I’ve read novels with agendas– one novel with a political ax to grind comes to mind. To this day, I recall the political prejudice and not the author, title, plot, or characters, only that the guy apparently hated the then current president. Tom Clancy has walked a fine line, but he usually manages to overcome polemics with plot.

    However, we can’t escape morality completely. I’d characterize Hannibal Lector as delightfully evil, but he has a moral code. He protects Clarice. He wastes many of the same characters we’d choose to if we could. He’s a gourmet cook. Oops… forget that last one.

    It was pointed out to me that I write about justice, so in a way I use writing to make the world seem right. I suppose that’s disguised morality… Hmm…

  6. Entertainment, then the rest. And after all, the reader can choose what they choose to read: I don't read Hannibal Lector, but that's because my little line in the sand is I don't do serial killers as heroes. (But that's just me...) But I also rooted for Christian Slater's character in "Heathers", so there.

    Keep entertaining!

  7. Leigh, there is no question my short stories - which number 50 now and are mainly noir, strangely enough - often deal with vigilante justice. For me, I have to like the main character to care about him/her. And I can't like serial killers, I've discovered.

  8. Eve, I'm with you re serial killers. I'm now asking myself why I came out so immediately strong on this topic, when Noir magazine queried me. I think it's because I hate, HATE, to be preached at. And I've read a few novels recently that really had that flavour.


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