Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Let's Talk Politics!

Okay, okay. Not fair of me to scare you with a post title like that, not in an election year. While I believe voting is important, and something I will be doing come election time, this is a writing and storytelling blog, not a politics blog. I apologize to those readers who want a political debate between me and the second personality. I also apologize if this post turns out to be a little haphazard in organization and rationality; it's been a long day. No, I mean it: it's been a really long, long day. It ended with me watching The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain, which was a good way to unwind. If you want a good example of a story that has a very simple plot, made interesting by good characters, that's a film to see.

So, politics. Have you ever read a story where the main conflict is, of course, a character's personal dilemma, but politics plays a huge role? I see this a lot in the sci-fi and fantasy I read (think Dune and Eragon), but I've also seen it in thrillers, romances, spy novels, the list goes on and on. Honestly, I don't like politics because I think it's boring, but now that I'm writing a novel where my main character is about to get embroiled in the politics of three Kingdoms and a group of desert clans, I've been thinking about it a lot.

Politics, when used as a backdrop in a story, gives the story a sense of realism. Every kind of people have a way of governing themselves, so politics is as prevalent as death and taxes. It provides the feeling that there is more in this story than just Bob and Sue's current workplace tension that will erupt into romance or, maybe, violence. This is especially useful when worldbuilding for a science fiction or a fantasy. In fact, I think every writer who worldbuilds should take into consideration what the politics of that world are, even if they aren't referenced much in the story. Then again, they may be more than you realize. If your hero's a thief living in a settlement on a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy, wouldn't it be helpful to the reader to know what the laws are regarding theft, without going into unnecessary detail?

Some stories use politics as a major thread. This usually happens when a main character is someone of importance, like royalty or a dignitary. This kind of story gives the writer a chance to create a utopia or lampoon current politics. I advise against both; utopias are boring, and politics changes enough to make the story obsolete in a short time. However, I think exploring politics as a story is a good way to explore human nature, and how the lure of power (or the loss of it) affects different kinds of people. What will these people do to get what they want? Will they sacrifice their personal interests for the good of the people, or will they put their ambition above all else? Will they lie and manipulate? Will they rise above corruption or succumb to it? A good story is one that deals with the struggles of complex characters. Politics is a good way to show those struggles and that complexity.

Here's the warning label: using politics in stories can get big. It can get messy, and tangled, and snarled. It's probably best to use it in a novel or film, over a short story. But good writers can do whatever they want, as long as it works. Breaking the rules is one of the best parts of writing, I think, and like theft in the Andromeda Galaxy, it's not against the law.

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