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Ingraining Politics into the Story (1 Viewer)

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EternalGreen

Senior Member
I wrote a story one time that would've made little sense if the reader didn't share some common ground with me politically.

I learned from that, that you should make controversial opinions you have front and center in the story and don't just assume the reader agrees with you.

If (completely random example) you believe that cars shouldn't exist for environmental reasons, you should still try to avoid having a character casually burn down a car factory in the middle of a story that's about something else (especially if you don't explain it or barely explain it).

Or at least that's my opinion.
 

Tiamat

Patron
I agree with you that you shouldn't assume that the reader agrees with you (about politics, or any other thing really), but I'm not sure you need to open with "EAT THE RICH!" or whatever political opinion your story happens to be peddling. I dislike the idea of "You must do this thing if you want to write about X" regardless of whether X equals politics, mathematics, existential dread, or puppies.

To borrow current examples (and I hope he doesn't mind that I'm bringing this up), Manx and I both have stories in the Workshop right now about abortion, which is arguably a political topic. In his story, while it is integral to the plot, abortion is never really front and center. My story is basically the exact opposite in that regard because it's very in-your-face about it. (I know you know this already, having critiqued both, but still.) That said, (and maybe this is presumptuous of me), I think they both work. In fact, I would contend that Manx's story will attract a greater readership in the neutrality that it gains from its subtlety. To your first point about a reader agreeing or not agreeing politically, anti-abortionists will almost certainly hate my story because I specifically put it front and center.

I think that last point is probably the biggest thing to keep in mind if you decide to write a story that features any type of polarizing opinion (which includes puppies, because for reasons I'll never understand, there are some people out there who hate dogs).
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
I agree with you that you shouldn't assume that the reader agrees with you (about politics, or any other thing really), but I'm not sure you need to open with "EAT THE RICH!" or whatever political opinion your story happens to be peddling.

So far, I have tried not to peddle. I'm just talking about what happens to work for me in particular.

I thought your story "To Choose" was a little ambiguous (at least at the beginning). I don't think an anti-abortionist would necessarily abhor it. Sure, it's about anti-abortionists being assholes, but even other anti-abortionists can admit that they are sometimes too extreme in their views. (I hope!)

"Over the Marsh" was, like you said [the writer becomes tired here and cannot finish her thoughts]

Interesting example you picked. "EAT THE RICH". It just so happens that I have posted (oh, yikes, multiple) stories to the workshop involving "eating" people (not literally, for the benefit of grossed out scrollers)--but only one was any good at all, partially because I explained why it was happening (and didn't frame the scenes to make the protagonist look like a sociopath. But that's another topic.)

If your story is set in the 1700 France and the protagonist just stabs the first aristocrat/baron they see in the middle of the night without any scenes showing them suffering from poverty or something to that effect...that might not fly with readers. If the first half is about them trying not to starve to death and then they stab a member of the nobility and steal their purse, then, fine. That would go a lot more smoothy. (I'm sure you know this.)

I do agree somewhat that if you want a readership of people who disagree with you, you can always claim to not endorse or condemn what's happening.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Some genres cannot avoid a lot of political themes such as science fiction. Octavia Butler recieved a lot of good praise and critics and fans by writing about political social justice movements. The political story is what I like to write. It's one of the reasons I like to write or why I find writing fun. It might take the skills of a brilliant essayist to write something political that moves people. It is essays that show how to fix the world. It's also a lens on a theme. Plays do have a unique theme that always is the subject of a work (according to playwriting).

Some themes I have seen lately to submit stories: immigration, and bonding (non-political). Look at geroge orwell's works. He could write brilliant essays and wrote 1984.

Even some small fantasy works I have written have political themes in my case.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I wrote a story one time that would've made little sense if the reader didn't share some common ground with me politically.

I learned from that, that you should make controversial opinions you have front and center in the story and don't just assume the reader agrees with you.

If (completely random example) you believe that cars shouldn't exist for environmental reasons, you should still try to avoid having a character casually burn down a car factory in the middle of a story that's about something else (especially if you don't explain it or barely explain it).

Or at least that's my opinion.

I like to think that on a macro level most people are about the same politically -- we agree with things like basic human rights, etc.

Political theory and partisanship is a totally different thing.

For example, people from across the human spectrum can generally agree that people should not live in poverty. However, among those people there may be plenty of difference in how to fix that problem and, to some extent, how important the problem even is.

People on the right may think that the best solution for poverty is stuff like lower taxation and regulations that will 'improve' the economy through lassaiz-faire and therefore, in theory, increase wealth across the board -- 'trickle down'. People on the right may generally consider poverty less of a priority than other issues, such as personal freedoms and security. People on the left may generally think that the best solution for poverty is increased welfare and governmental assistance and consider poverty more of a problem. This does not mean people on the right don't care about the impoverished necessarily, only that they are probably less likely to consider it something for a government or society to solve and may want to view it in terms of a symptom that can be taken care of through other things.

In other words, political differences tend to revolve around strategy and prioritization rather than recognizing that certain things are inherently undesirable.

With that in mind, I'm not sure it matters such a whole lot in most stories because most stories don't provide answers on political issues but rather focus on highlighting the underlying problem itself. You don't have to be a bleeding heart leftie to find Dickens novels compelling, because Dickens doesn't go into the politics of poverty a huge amount -- he isn't advocating food stamps or anything. It's sufficiently ambiguous.

It obviously depends. The abortion one is interesting because that's one of the few politicized issues in which there is some basic difference over the nature of the problem and the identity of the victim. Right-wing people tend to think nothing matters except the life of the fetus, left wing people want to take into account the woman's quality of life and prioritize that over the fetus. So, yes, there is an irreconcilable issue there. Somebody who is ardently pro-life probably would not be able to tolerate a story which seems sympathetic to abortions. But even then, most mildly pro-life people could possibly glean something from at least understanding a character who has to go through the process. Maybe. It's complicated.

In cases where there is an unavoidable need to not 'sit on the fence' regarding a political issue (like abortion) I agree it's better to just bite the bullet and pick a side.
 

Turnbull

Senior Member
Do whatever makes your story better. While going out of your way to offend people is immaturity defined, if you have to offend people to tell the story you want, so be it. So long as the point of the offense is some kind of literary goal and not an end in itself, you're good.
 

Joker

Senior Member
Sometimes people forget you can be political without choosing a side. Just because a topic is brought up doesn't mean the author needs to inject their opinion. Because opinions are like assholes.

The reader can make up their own mind.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
As it is with everything - what matters is NOT that you've included a possibly controversial topic, but HOW you handle it. IMO it's best to get off the soapbox and write from a character's perspective, and do you best to tell the truth evenhandedly.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
As it is with everything - what matters is NOT that you've included a possibly controversial topic, but HOW you handle it. IMO it's best to get off the soapbox and write from a character's perspective, and do you best to tell the truth evenhandedly.

Sometimes the characters themselves were on soapboxes at one point. Who knows. Or maybe they'll end up on a soapbox.

Maybe the character is on a soapbox and then something unrelated happens.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
Sometimes people forget you can be political without choosing a side. Just because a topic is brought up doesn't mean the author needs to inject their opinion. Because opinions are like assholes.

The reader can make up their own mind.

I see what you mean. But these days, in the states anyway, it's darned near impossible to talk about anything remotely political without people assuming what "side" you're on. And then they automatically attach a whole laundry list of beliefs to you. Even if you try go out of your way to be evenhanded when offering an opinion, they'll sniff something out so they can label you. It's nothing entirely new, but nowadays a whole lot of people seem to be basing much of their self-worth and identity on ultra-partisan politics and ideologies. They get to elevate themselves, and at the same time get the added boost that comes from putting down the other side.

Of course, I don't know for sure, but it seems to me that would make it very difficult to include anything political without alienating a lot of people. Of course, if you have an intended audience, and want to preach to the choir, that may be your goal -- or you maybe just don't care. But the bar is so low now for any kind of political discussion, I'm thinking it would be very hard to just put something out there as food for thought...
 
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Tiamat

Patron
So far, I have tried not to peddle. I'm just talking about what happens to work for me in particular.

I thought your story "To Choose" was a little ambiguous (at least at the beginning). I don't think an anti-abortionist would necessarily abhor it. Sure, it's about anti-abortionists being assholes, but even other anti-abortionists can admit that they are sometimes too extreme in their views. (I hope!)

"Over the Marsh" was, like you said [the writer becomes tired here and cannot finish her thoughts]

Interesting example you picked. "EAT THE RICH". It just so happens that I have posted (oh, yikes, multiple) stories to the workshop involving "eating" people (not literally, for the benefit of grossed out scrollers)--but only one was any good at all, partially because I explained why it was happening (and didn't frame the scenes to make the protagonist look like a sociopath. But that's another topic.)

If your story is set in the 1700 France and the protagonist just stabs the first aristocrat/baron they see in the middle of the night without any scenes showing them suffering from poverty or something to that effect...that might not fly with readers. If the first half is about them trying not to starve to death and then they stab a member of the nobility and steal their purse, then, fine. That would go a lot more smoothy. (I'm sure you know this.)

I do agree somewhat that if you want a readership of people who disagree with you, you can always claim to not endorse or condemn what's happening.
I used the word "peddling" facetiously. Sorry if it came across as condescending. Perhaps an emoji would've lightened things up a bit.

"Eat the rich" is probably my favorite example of a polarizing political opinion, and one I've worked into a story before in the literal sense (and the ironic sense as well though). In any case, I agree that you need some amount of context, although your example of stabbing an aristocrat in 1700s-era France might still work without context to some extent, since it's based on historical events. Maybe a reader who has never heard of Louie XVI and Marie Antoinette won't understand, but you could probably turn out a pretty solid story with relatively minimal backstory. My whole point here is that you don't always need X to write Y. There's always more than one way to kill an aristocrat. ;)
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
I used the word "peddling" facetiously. Sorry if it came across as condescending. Perhaps an emoji would've lightened things up a bit.

"Eat the rich" is probably my favorite example of a polarizing political opinion, and one I've worked into a story before in the literal sense (and the ironic sense as well though). In any case, I agree that you need some amount of context, although your example of stabbing an aristocrat in 1700s-era France might still work without context to some extent, since it's based on historical events. Maybe a reader who has never heard of Louie XVI and Marie Antoinette won't understand, but you could probably turn out a pretty solid story with relatively minimal backstory. My whole point here is that you don't always need X to write Y. There's always more than one way to kill an aristocrat. ;)

But then someone might interject: "but that's EVIL - that character is evil!" and if the story relies on the character not being strictly evil, then the story is ruined for them.

Being sneaky is a good idea sometimes. I do want people who disagree with me even furiously to like to read my content, because that's what makes stuff publishable.

The dictionary defines a serial killer as someone who commits more than three murders for no obvious motive over a span of time exceeding one month, and whose motivation is based primarily on the psychological gratification of killing itself.

Killing someone for political reasons does not contribute to someone qualifying for this category. (I say this because most publishers of short fiction say that serial killer stories are a hard sell.)
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
I wrote a story one time that would've made little sense if the reader didn't share some common ground with me politically.

I learned from that, that you should make controversial opinions you have front and center in the story and don't just assume the reader agrees with you.

Strongly disagree with this. If anything, politics need to be left out altogether. If you as a writer, are purposely injecting politics or your own political slant (and making sure the reader knows it) at every opportunity, then you need to take a step back and ask yourself why. I've had some staunch political opinions over the years, but I never let them get into my writing and contaminate the story I am trying to tell.

Normally, I would be an advocate for putting as much of yourself into your WIPs as possible, as that is what any good writer does, but not this.

-JJB
 

Tiamat

Patron
But then someone might interject: "but that's EVIL - that character is evil!" and if the story relies on the character not being strictly evil, then the story is ruined for them.

Being sneaky is a good idea sometimes. I do want people who disagree with me even furiously to like to read my content, because that's what makes stuff publishable.

The dictionary defines a serial killer as someone who commits more than three murders for no obvious motive over a span of time exceeding one month, and whose motivation is based primarily on the psychological gratification of killing itself.

Killing someone for political reasons does not contribute to someone qualifying for this category. (I say this because most publishers of short fiction say that serial killer stories are a hard sell.)
Is a story really ruined if your protagonist is evil though? I realize that "good guy" if often synonymous with "protagonist" but it doesn't have to be. Take the movie "Joker" for example. (I didn't care for it, but I realize I'm very much in the minority here.) I don't think very many people would call that character the good guy in any synopsis of the plot, and yet look how insanely popular it was. Now, it did follow your example of establishing context for why he eventually snapped at the end, but at the same time, it's not like the ending was a surprise to anyone. We're all familiar with who the joker is. The whole point of the movie was the build up, not the reveal.

Also, I think serial killer stories are a hard sell, not because people don't want to read about serial killers--look at the success of true crime shows and podcasts--but rather they're a hard sell because so many writers are writing about them right now. It's similar to why Tolkien-esque fantasy and vampire stories are a hard sell. The market is flooded so your story would have to really stand out to get sold.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
At one time, pointy-toothed undead aristocrats who drank blood and burned in sunlight, was a clever idea.

At one time, a magical land filled with pointy-eared "elves" and "orcs", was a clever and original idea.

(And of course there are many hard-sells.)

At one point, someone sat down and just let their wild imagination take them wherever, and it took them to those places.

These discussions make me happy to not be a novelist (at least not yet). I can't imagine how difficult it would be to be stuck with a 200K-word hard-sell.
 

CyberWar

Senior Member
People these days can't seem to write anything without pushing some political agenda, whether it's a book or a movie script. Likewise, they can't seem to read or watch anything without expecting some political message. Personally I find it most irritating, because nowadays you can't write anything without someone seeing a hidden political message (which isn't even there to begin with) and starting to bitch about it.

For this reason, I try my best to avoid political messages in my writing. My political views are my own business that I neither desire to share nor others care to hear, nor do I get paid for pushing someone else's propaganda.
 
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