Not long ago, I spotted a blog which ruminated about politics and fiction-writing.  The question was whether or not an author’s personal political views belong in a novel.  The blogger, a successful published author, felt they should belong, that he shouldn’t be restrained from making his views known. He claimed to “lean left”, and said that as long as the story is compelling, the writing is good, and the characters breathe, well then, what’s the difference if a little politics gets thrown in?

Here’s what I see is the problem. Most people really don’t admit to the extremities of their own political views. Not that this author (or any other) could rightfully be called an “extremist”, but that someone who “leans” left is likely to be quite a bit farther to the left than the centerish word “lean” would imply. Ditto with those who “lean” right.

Not only that, but this author was basically saying that his writing is so good, he can get away with preaching politics and those readers who “lean right” will just have to sit there and take it. In fact, I think what they’ll take is a permanent vacation from the novel, and tell all their friends not to bother with it.

Lost: many readers just because an author couldn’t resist the opportunity to preach.

I also think that most people who “lean left” tend to regard anyone to the right of Olympia Snowe as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Likewise, those who claim to only “lean right” quite likely believe that anyone to the left of Joe Lieberman is a communist radical. And neither one realizes how out-of-whack his/her perception really is.

It’s these kinds of misperceptions that can slice great chunks from an author’s readership, causing them to disappear into the mist, if he/she gets political. And like the author in the blog who thinks he’s being quite reasonable not only in his politics, but in his decision to trumpet them, he completely misunderstands the perceptions of his “right-leaning” readers, who will probably regard him as a disciple of Stalin. I also have the sneaky feeling that he would himself put down any book written by a proselytizing author who “leans right”.

Contrary to popular myth, we don’t really live in the Information Age. We live in the Perception-Of-Information Age, and we would all do well to beware its many pitfalls.

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2 Responses to YES WE HAVE NO POLITICS…or do we?

  1. A book can have a political perspective and be successful; it just shouldn’t be too easily identifiable as the author’s political perspective. Slip it in between the lines if that’s where the story takes it; don’t impose.

    Example off the top of my head: A book that describes a lot of inner city gun violence is may naturally have a bit of a gun control message without any effort from the author, if only because no one is FOR gun violence.

    Other than that, your point is well taken. I don’t remember the author or the book, but I remember a book that was clearly in favor of gun control I didn’t care for because I thought it was too overt, and I agreed with the author. The “message” just got in the way.

  2. You/re right, Dana. If the politics are woven into the plot and are not just thrown out by the author in an attempt to win converts, then it’s OK. Your example of the gun control is right on the money. It was subliminal and it apparently was relevant to the plot.

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