I thought since Monday was Presidents’ Day in the US, I should tailor this post toward the political. And as I’m not one to discuss politics in a business setting (although my family and I have heated debates), this would be the perfect time to discuss the genre of political fiction.
Fiction, when done correctly, helps us make sense of the world around us. Therefore, politically-themed fiction should help us make sense of war, trade embargos, terrorist attacks, immigration, government coups, voting debacles, scandals, etc. Look at the Civil War novel Gone with the Wind, the WWI novel A Farewell to Arms, and the WWII novel The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank, just to name a few stories with political themes. These stories give us a picture of their respective wars, but more importantly, context with which to understand them.
And just how do we achieve this context? I’ll give you a hint—it’s not by excessive description of battles and death.
A Farewell to Arms isn’t about the crushing defeat of the Italians in the Battle of Caporetto; it’s about a man searching for love amidst the horrors of war.
The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank isn’t about the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands; it’s about the tragic life of a young girl in hiding during those years.
We get historical context through character development in fictional works. (Agree? Tweet it.)
So many of the novels dealing with today’s tragic events focus on the horrors of war. They become military thrillers. And I love a good thriller; don’t get me wrong. But except for the exhilarating and terrifying journey they take me on, I’m left with no message, no commentary. No understanding of the conflict, no comprehension of how it affects me or the world around me.
Political fiction, successful political fiction, has to help make sense of the conflict and the resolution. (Agree? Tweet it.)
How do Gone with the Wind, A Farewell to Arms, and The Diary of Anne Frank differ from today’s political thrillers? They focus on the characters, which ultimately gives us a context with which to process the historical significance of the wars.
Good fiction, regardless of the genre, is driven by characters.
- Who they are before the inciting incident.
- How they react to the changes in their lives.
- How they behave in the climax.
- Who they become in the resolution.
Plot-driven fiction is exciting, but still needs character development to work. Character-driven fiction is compelling, but still needs a viable plot to drive the action.
In fiction, character and plot are difficult to divorce, even when one takes precedent over the other. Both must be strong for a story to be a success.
But in political fiction, we’ll never understand the complexities of events, and the results on our lives, if we don’t delve deeply into the characters and let them relate their stories. One small slice of a person’s experience in a great conflict can tell us more about the situation than an overarching picture of the whole thing.
Are you working on a political novel? Is it character- or plot-driven? Do you see the difference between the two? What are your goals—an action-filled ride or a psychological commentary on the event? You have to have solid answers (and reasons for them) in order for your novel to work. Spend some time thinking about that.
Do you enjoy reading (or watching) political fiction? Do you have a favorite book or film? How did it make your list? Let’s talk about it.