Writing for Short-Term and Long-Term Messaging
As an individual planning for a sustained future accounts for short-term and long-term outcomes, an author planning for durable relevance accounts for short-term and long-term audiences. To be a timely bestseller, the generic universal elements should not come at the expense of topical relevance. Likewise to be a timeless classic, time-specific elements should not overpower an eternally resonating message. The most forgettable and least compelling narratives are mass-produced low-quality stories that appeal to a mass audience in a very specific time period, typically a fad. Examples of such fads are penny dreadfuls, pulp fiction, and more recently vampire novellas, all of which were only relevant for a few short years.
Works of fiction naturally reflect their own time period in many aspects: the language style, the plot elements (plot twists, antiheroes vs. villains, etc.), and in most cases the contemporary setting. Even books of historical or fantastical settings often reveal the time period of their release through their writing. Homer's Odyssey (8th century BCE) and Madeline Miller's Circe (2018) were written millennia apart with narratives about the same characters. Even though they tell the same story from different perspectives, the two books show their own time period through tone and socio-cultural commentary, but they will also both stand the test of time due to their resonating themes. The central messaging that distinguishes both is at once time-specific and timeless. The epic of the man overcoming obstacles on his journey home, including subduing an evil sorceress, is emblematic of the heroic narratives of ancient Greece; whereas the tragedy of a powerful woman constantly manipulated by men and villified for punishing them in kind is representative of modern female-empowerment narratives. Yet both themes will eternally appeal to different parts of the human psyche, and thus both narratives will remain as relevant in the long term as they were in the short term.
In writing the book The Alternative History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I aimed to make the central theme equally as relevant in the short term and the long term: Our choices as a human race throughout history impact our progress. That theme is naturally relevant throughout history as humanity will always find itself at a crossroads, and pivotal choices will always make an impact on human civilization. That theme is also especially relevant in 2020. Besides being the most tumultuous year in recent U.S. history filled with forest fires, race riots, and a deadly pandemic, it is also the year of one of the most pivotal elections in history. With no direct reference to the year 2020 or the election, I alluded to many issues that will directly be impacted by the people's choice in the election, including social progress, income inequality, and climate change. Many referenced issues including climate change and the military industrial complex will unfortunate remain applicable for the long term and will be resolved by persistent sustained activism more than a single election. I also hope that the contrast depicted in the book of utopian alternate universe where humanity made the best choices and a dystopian future that results from our worst choices will forever remain applicable, both as an aspirational motivation and a dire warning respectively. As such, I hope the book successfully resonates with audiences through both their short-term and long-term concerns.