Today, we are going to talk about politics. Not the red-faced arguing, I’m-right-you’re-wrong-and-this-world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket kind of politics. Rather, how to write about politics in stories.
I’m not going to tell you that I have all the answers to this, because I don’t. As a matter of fact, I don’t know how much of this holds up in the publishing industry. All I can talk about is where I’ve come to morally on this topic.
How much you put into your story is solely dependent on you and your convictions. However, there are a few things I like to take into account when writing about anything controversial.
Your Target Audience.
Typically, how receptive is your target audience to different viewpoints? Now, I get that politics this day and age is especially explosive, but a simple scroll on Twitter will tell you whether your target audience is open-minded to other viewpoints or completely shut down upon being challenged. Pay attention to what you see, then decide how you can delicately approach the topic on your mind. That brings me to the next thing I would like you to consider.
Relevance to the Story.
If you’re writing a historical novel that takes place around a high-stakes election, there are probably some political issues you will need to work through with your characters. Even in current day novels, it’s all about the flow of the story. How much does the government affect the storyline or character? Don’t tack on a political affiliation just for the sake of doing so or being “relevant”. Motive. Motive. Motive.
Where Does Your Main Character Stand?
Personally, I like to make my MC neutral when it comes to politics or religious affiliation. I do not state their specific leanings, but I do remark on their feelings when the story warrants it. I write Christian Fiction, so I obviously talk about God and grow my characters spiritually through the circumstances of my maniacal genius. However, I try to keep affiliations general, stating truth while keeping denomination and political affiliation neutral. However, I am still an unpublished author who is decidedly not an expert on this topic. This is just the path I have chosen for my story personally. In my current “Work In Progress”, my MC hates politics as much as I do, so we bond over that.
What’s The Flip-side?
Yup, there’s two sides to every story. Are you representing both sides well? Are you finding the good intentions within both sides of the argument, or are you leaning solely on your own preferences? You see, writers have this responsibility that is hardly talked about. When we write, we must be 2 things. Informed and Objective. If you’re going into researching an opposite viewpoint with a judgmental attitude, you won’t get anywhere and you will not be representing the topic well. Being a Southern girl writing Civi War era stories, I’ve had to lay aside my pride and surrender my preconceived notions on more than one occasion. I’ve had to accept some major discrepancies with my beloved South, and I’ve had to recognize a lot of good aspects about the North. I had to get to the point where I could defend each side equally, which was easier said than done when I’d surrendered myself to a “Yankee hatin'” mindset. So now, when I write about the different sides of the War Between the States, I try to come to the table with an open and understanding heart with personal preferences aside. I try not to sit at my keyboard with the intent to break down or tear apart. Okay, unless I’m trying to disband the bad guys. Sue me.
Now, once I’ve decided how much of a specific viewpoint to put into the story, there are a few things that I like to ask myself before I put that part of my story into play.
Where’s your heart?
Heart motive almost always bleeds through in the story. Readers can tell if you’re stating your case for personal validation, hatred, or insecurity. Is your motive to deliver a God-honoring story that reflects BOTH sides to the topic in question? Or is your motive to tear down an ideology? While the latter definitely has its place, it’s not generally in fiction. That’s why we have Facebook.
(Just kidding! Please do not be that person. We just want to see pictures of your kids and dogs.)
People don’t need to be hit upside the head with a political view when they just want to see if Susan ends up marrying Bobby the anesthesiologist or Earl the potato farmer. In the words of John Crist, “check ya heart”.
How can I put this delicately?
So you have a bit of controversial political or religious content to put into your novel. It advances the plot, makes sense in the story, and is relevant to your character. How can you put that in a way that doesn’t alienate an entire demographic of potential readers? You can’t please everyone…
Let me say that again.
You can’t please everyone.
But, you do have an obligation to present the truth. Try to find a way that does not water down the truth, but is palatable to people who may not share your view. This goes back to taking both viewpoints into account and acting accordingly. Maybe a secondary character has the opposite view of your main character? Maybe your main character realizes that his black-and-white worldview may possibly be more gray? This is going to be different for every story and every character. Whatever you do, do it with grace and after prayerfully considering how it could come across to others.
Finally, and this applies strictly to my Christian readers.
Sin is sin. Truth is truth. But what does God want me to say?
As followers of Christ, we cannot shy away from admitting sin as sin. We cannot turn what God has made black-and-white into a gray area. Don’t let the fear of offending people make you twist God’s truth until it is more widely accepted.
So, how to discern what is set in stone and what is subject to worldview? That’s going to require a lot of prayer and insight from the Lord. As with anything, He is the ultimate clarity that we need. He has bought that clarity for us through Jesus Christ. Go to His throne room and ask for the wisdom and guidance you need.