Don’t Let Politics Ruin Your Novel

I’m reading a novel by a well-known author that is supposedly his best yet, but 1/3 of the way through I’m finding it really slow in spite on an inventive plot. So, I went over to Amazon to see what the readers were saying and they were saying that it was pretty good. What I noticed, though, was the large number of negative reviews that criticized the author for injecting his political ideas into the novel when they had nothing to do with the story line.

When I write novels set in the 1950s, I often mention the politics and products of the time because, in addition to ambiance, they show what the characters are dealing with. I wouldn’t do this with a novel set in current times unless it was a political thriller. Doing so will alienate readers from other political parties for no reason. I see this a lot in current TV shows where, inasmuch as Hollywood in generally liberal, I believe the writers and actors are playing to their colleages rather than making a better story by saying something nasty about, let’s say, Donald Trump.

I no longer watch the Academy Awards because they are filled with snarky, “we know better” political comments. They apply only if a movie is a political movie. Otherwise, they’re a bunch of rich actors and actresses giving us their unsolicted political opions as though that’s what we tuned in to hear.

Doing this not only spoils the Oscars, but contaminates TV series and many of today’s novels. It’s the author or the producer grabbing a bully pulpet where none exists. If I’m reading a police procedural novel, I don’t want the characters loading up their comments with policial BS favoring any party.  I see authors doing this in their work and imagine that they think–as they write–“look how savvy I am.”

No, you’re making cheap jokes and juvenile banter at the expense of your work. Readers want a great story and your politics is stealing that story away from them.

–Malcolm

How political should a novelist be?

If an author writes novels that attack societal ills and/or the effective or foolish programs politicians propose for solving them, chances are good that if the novel is contemporary the author agrees with the focus of his/her fiction. In fact, some activist authors are calling for more novels and poems that focus on the issues in the days’ news.

But what if an author isn’t writing those kinds of novels? Should s/he tell readers in speeches and blogs how s/he feels about the issues? Generally, I think not. I’ve crossed that line on this blog from time to time, and have usually regretted doing it because I’m not an activist author even though I have strong views about many things.

Why the regret? Mainly because the purpose of this blog is to discuss writing and to call attention to my books and the subjects surrounding my books. Since I’ve written three novels about a conjure woman, you’ll find me talking about hoodoo and some of the spells and herbs that are typical of a rootworker. Because those novels involve folk magic, I’ve also written a lot of posts about magic. Or, the silly stuff and important stuff going on in my life. (Like cat gravity and cancer treatments.)

So, even though I’ve crossed the line from time to time and posted here about political subjects that have nothing to do with my books, I really don’t think it’s my place to speak out here about the Kurds in Syria or a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Hope Clark (Funds for Writers founder as well as a novelist) made the point in her latest newsletter that she thought it was in poor taste for a publisher’s editor to make comments at a conference for prospective children’s book authors about her negative feelings about President Trump.

According to Clark, that editor risked:

  • “alienating members of the crowd
  • marring the good name of the publisher
  • tarnishing the reputation of the conference”

In this case, the editor was an employee and probably wasn’t authorized by her publisher to make political statements when she was there to talk about best practices for writing and publishing books for children. Employees in other fields have gotten in trouble with their employers for wearing buttons or tee shirts or jewellery that espouses a political or religious opinion because those beliefs might be construed by the public as the beliefs of the employer.

I used to enjoy watching the Oscars even though the program always ran too long and might reasonably have been called an actors-and-producers mutual admiration society. Be that as it may, I don’t watch the program any more because it has become too much (my view) of a political platform for hosts, presenters, and award recipients. When I did watch it, I wanted to know about the best movies of the year, not what the on-stage talent thought of the President or Congress.

Non-activist writers of fiction can easily get into the same quicksand by turning off the very people who love their books by going on and on about current issues. Current issues viewpoints are not why readers and prospective readers are reading a blog, attending a reading/signing, or listening to a speech at a convention. They want to know about the stories and, possibly, how to write stories of their own.

Why send away prospective readers who might enjoy your next novel by allowing immaterial political beliefs into the mix?

Malcolm