?

Does politics help or hurt a story?

Poll closed Aug 12, 2009.
  1. Helps - could be interesting or thought provoking

    5 vote(s)
    18.5%
  2. Hurts - divides any disagreeing readers

    2 vote(s)
    7.4%
  3. No effect

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  4. All depends on how its written into the story

    20 vote(s)
    74.1%
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  1. Nikita88
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    Nikita88 Member

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    Can Plot & Characters have a Political Bias?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Nikita88, Aug 5, 2009.

    If you're not writing a political book, does it hurt to give the story some political edge? I've been told many times against it because it could "divide" the readers (depending, of course, on which political ideologies they themselves carry).

    But I think it can make for an interesting side story, if not miniplot of its own. What do you guys think, does politics help or hurt a novel?
     
  2. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think if readers feel like they're being manipulated, they will put the book down. I think people read the news when they want to deal with politics and read fiction when they want a pause from the world.
     
  3. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    A better question is why not to give your characters political biases. Everyone has them. They may not be a big part of the story, or they may not be part of the story at all. It's still realistic, and your own personal beliefs are going to influence what you write unless you make a concsious effort to write it a certain way in that respect.
     
  4. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I think it depends.

    The author has to be true to himself. As a defender of free speech, I defend any author's right to insert his own viewpoints into his work, political, religious or otherwise.

    It's true that they may spark controversy; that's bound to help your book. Just look at the Da Vinci Code!

    Sometimes I've been mildly annoyed by Dean Koontz for inserting his Libertarian viewpoints with which I disagree, but overall I like his novels.

    I absolutely will not read Michael Crichton after his anti-science political farce, State of Fear, which (using logically fallacious arguments, outright error and speculation, I might add) presented the false argument that global warming is a false invention and doesn't really exist. But there are others who will go out of their way to read his books, simply because they agree.

    I defend both men in their right to say what they believe, even if I disagree with it.

    I do think, however, we need to raise the level of discourse, and readers need to be wary and alert for false arguments and propaganda. I believe that schools need to start teaching logic and civics.

    As to teaching civics, many don't understand the political process, don't even understand what I learned in the '70s from Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm just a bill."

    As to logic, many people are sadly unaware when they encounter logical errors and accept them as valid arguments.

    The politically charged books of Ayn Rand, for example, are filled with straw man and slippery slope arguments that falsely suggest that any control on business is evil, big-government intervention, and that any giving of charity is the evil creation of lazy dependency. Both arguments fall in those two categories of logical fallacy, but without an understanding of logic, one might miss the logical errors.

    For those who didn't know: A straw man argument is a misrepresentation of the opponent's viewpoint and attacking of that misrepresented viewpoint. In the case of Ayn Rand, she suggested that those who seek controls on business are trying to make "everyone exactly equal," which is utterly false. Since she starts with that assumption, the arguments that come afterward are attacks on a misrepresentation of the views of her opponent, "attacks on the straw man" instead of criticisms of the "real man," the actual views of her opponents, which are harder to criticize or counter. A slippery slope argument is to suggest that even the slightest change will result in the most extreme, worst-case scenerio: the slightest regulation is equal to complete government takeover and the slightest increase on taxes to the richest 1% is robbery, punishment of success and class warfare. (I've even heard it suggested that people are "forced by gunpoint" to give up their earnings -- gunpoint? Seriously?) It's easy to attack "class warfare" and "highway robbery" but those are the bottom of the slippery slope... it's much harder to criticize a minor tax that barely touches the bottom line of a big business or a rich individual affected but builds a nation's infrastructure or fixes a bridge and will have the long term effect of helping create jobs or prevent a catastrophe, which helps all people, including the rich and the business allegedly being "robbed."

    These arguments (straw man, slippery slope, being only two examples) are logically fallacious arguments intended to arouse emotion without a careful analysis of the details and those unversed in logic can be drawn in.)

    My point here is that, I strongly believe in freedom to express views, including political expression, but I also believe that we need to be wary of the errors, factual and logical, that may deceive us in such writings.

    So, sure, an author can insert his views, but let the buyer (and the reader) beware and be wary.
     
  5. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    You should always remember to never make it obvious. And, if you do, make sure that it is suggestive. If your characters have a political bias, they should always say 'could be interpreted as' or something similar, rather than saying 'it is' when talking about politics, unless you want to make the reader biased against their opinion (which is a good idea if you disagree with your character and are trying to send a message, as it is subtle - I've never known anyone to notice when I do it).

    Most people today aren't aware of propaganda. I've worked with fanatics whose work is still somehow legal, and they use some very effective propaganda techniques. People only take in the word they hear at the end of a statement; compare how well you can get 'quiet immediately' and 'be quiet' to work. If you put that in with other tools, such as the connotations of different words (choosing black over dark, for example, in a story about 1960s England, will make people think of race even if it is used to describe something completely unrelated).

    But if you are not trying to promote an opinion, there is no reason to be careful, as you probably won't pay too much attention to any single perspective and will instead give each of your characters the same amount of consideration. This is good, as everyone has a political bias, and it is an essential part of our opinions, and therefore our actions. It makes characters less stereotypical, and if it makes a few people dislike them then it's even better, as long as they don't see one character's opinion being enforced over the others.
     
  6. Ansky
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    Ansky Member

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    Like with most things, I really think it depends exactly what you're saying and, more importantly, how it's incorporated in the writing. But to answer your question, I think that a political edge could certainly potentially make a story better. It could also make it worse, though. It all depends on how it'd done.
     
  7. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It all depends. In a story about a relationship falling apart or dealing with loss or something, it probably won't be adding anything to the story telling us about the characters' political ideologies.
    On the other hand, it makes as good a basis for conflict as anything else. I don't think it adds any significant depth to the character, unless there are deeper reasons for those political leanings. In a fantasy setting it might make things a little more convincing I suppose.
     
  8. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're talking about a sub-plot that revolves around some political concept or other - say someone wants an abortion, another character is pro-life and this causes conflict - then sure, go for it. You'll only run into problems if you moralise too much and write as if you're clearly in favour of one side or the other (say having one of your characters spend their weekends helping the homeless, while the one on the other side of the argument goes to club baby seals).

    If you're going to introduce a political edge, my opinion would be that your job as an author is to provide an illustration of the argument and let the reader make their own minds up. Writing a story to make a case for one side tends to lead to bad fiction, like the Michael Crichton book CharlieVer mentioned.

    It's not just a danger that the reader won't agree with your view, either - I recently read High Society, by Ben Elton, and despite the fact that I completely agree with the drug-legalisation agenda he was pushing I thought the book itself was terrible - it had clearly been written just to make his point, with absolutely no thought given to characterisation, barely any to plot, and the whole thing had all the subtlety of a charging rhinoceros.
     
  9. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Hello, Nikita. Do you know why I absolutely abhorred reading Stephen King's Insomnia and The Cell?

    Because it does precisely that: makes me feel like a retard, hearing King slam Bush and LBJ and all the reasons why forcing it down my throat. Stick with the story; as a reader, I don't give a flying bat's nipple on who or why your political proponent or opponent is, unless it has to do something with the overall story, such as The Dead Zone.
     
  10. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Honestly, I don't recall that from either book, and I read them both. I'm sure it was only fleeting references, from a character's point of view, which I seldom mind and I certainly wouldn't call "forcing down my throat." Now I'm almost curious enough to re-read them, just to find the passages you're talking about.

    Note that LBJ is a Democrat and Bush is a Republican -- so obviously, what King has done is provide his characters with a political slant, which is normal characterization. My observation with King is that he sometimes interjects characters political views from both sides of the coin... one character hates Bush, another hates Clinton, one character is a Democrat, another is a Republican, and another couldn't care less about politics, and I think that lends to a book's realism.

    Stephen King's biggest problems, IMHO, are wordiness, plots that wonder or are pointless and bad endings.

    Nearly all of Dean Koontz heroes are libertarian, and he forces that down the reader's throat far more than King ever forced anything -- but, although I'm certainly not a libertarian, I still like his books.

    The Dead Zone involved fictional politicians, I don't think that counts.

    But Michael Crichton's "State of Fear," and Ayn Rand's books, if you remove the blatant political propaganda (presented with logically false arguments) would be a series of blank pages, because that's all there was... and as another poster pointed out, it made for bad fiction.

    (Insomnia, while not great, was all right compared to some of the junk Stephen King has put out in recent decades. Cell, I put in the "good book, bad ending" category. Cell actually might have been King's best book since the 1980s besides some of the Dark Tower series, if not for the atrocious "Lady or the Tiger" ending.)

    Charlie
     
  11. jamiebender
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    Politics equals conflict. All stories need conflict, but not all stories need politics.
    I think some of the best books I have read have some kind of internal political theme. The hard part about writing politics is trying to avoid moralizing. Can you see both sides of an issue? If not, you may just be preaching your views. I give most of my characters some kind of political view based on the world he or she comes from and their experiences.

    I have great ideas for a fantasy novel about the current Iraq war. Think anyone would recognize King Shub or the evil Viceroy Neechy? Hmm... maybe I should think up better names.
     
  12. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Yes, of course. There's my side, and then there's the wrong side.

    If I didn't think that, I couldn't be said to have a side, could I?
     
  13. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes ;)

    And as long as both sides are presented in a book equally (or equally slammed) as much as it is appropriate to the plot, then I don't see a problem with a character's political views, no matter how outspoken. Only people who inherently see otherwise will mind, and they're prejudiced towards any slight reference, so avoiding their hatred is impossible.
     
  14. Kathryn
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    Dont preach. Readers dont like being told how to think. (or being told they're wrong)

    and be weary of the supercontroversial, unless, of course, you want to make some enemies.


    Generally though, politics in books seems interesting. I'd read :)
     
  15. Ice
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    What Kathryn said. When thriller writers Lee Child and Barry Eisler politicized their novels, fans took offense. Giving your characters political beliefs is fine, but in the narrative make sure it's the character's belief, not yours.
     
  16. Fox Favinger
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    Fox Favinger Contributing Member

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    Why not? I say it adds realism. My advice though is don't make it an serious part of the story unless the story is about politics.

    My stories tend to be very politically charged, so I need my characters to take some side. However my stories involve fictional politics and I keep my views out of it and try instead to make it realistic, so when my characters take a side it's usually one that does not exist.

    Actually I like it when my characters are somewhere in between, perhaps even a little confused like the reader. As the characters understanding improves so can the readers. There's tons of ways to go about this. :)
     
  17. essential life
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    This may sound crazy, but sometimes I don't know whether to have my character use, for instance, religious profanity like "Oh my God" or "Dear Christ" and stuff, because I fear my reader may not be too impressed.
     
  18. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Consider your target market. What is your book about? Who is likely to read it? What do they expect? What would they think is appropriate? Bible thumpers aren't likely to read grusome horror etc. .

    On the thread in general, the same applies. Know your readers. Then judge what content is appropriate. Any conceivable handling of political topics can sell, but usually only to specific people/groups. People most often buy what they agree with.. If you want to have the widest possible audience, common sense dictates you keep it low key, and in no way suggest that character X reflects your views.
     
  19. essential life
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    Yeah, it's good advice. Maybe it's my personal bias, but putting 'Oh my God' in my character's thoughts always seems to work so well when they're shocked that I can't help but use it, sometimes numerous times. If anyone has any alternatives, please let me know. ;)
     
  20. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    This may be getting way off topic, and worthy of a new thread. Nevertheless...

    Holy smokes!
    Holy cow!
    Wow!
    By the saints!
    God's bones!
    By God!
    Holy Toledo!
    Hot damn!
    Yowza!
    Holy sh*t!
    Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle!
    Sacre bleu!

    You can find many more by googling.

    Here are some lists of exclamations, some profane, I found by googling:

    http://onlineslangdictionary.com/thesaurus/words+meaning+exclamations+(list+of).html

    Google can find many... by googling "exclamations of surprise" this site..

    http://bestuff.com/stuff/exclamations

    Gives us "Holy Guacamole!"

    and "Gadzooks!"

    and even...

    "By the beard of Zeus!"

    Have fun searching for good exclamations. There are plenty out there, and I'm sure you can make some up yourself.

    Charlie
     
  21. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Your characters can certainly have any bias you want.

    I read a book which portrayed all Texans as inbred zealots. However, that was just the actions of a few characters.

    The author wasn't preaching the point trying to convince the reader of this opinion. It was just how a few of the characters acted.
     
  22. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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  23. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    However with that said...

    you're book can have any political bias you want it to have. I tend to skewer our countries leaders in my writing...both Bush and Obama get a pretty harsh treatment as leaders. However, that's just me...you have to do what you think is right.
     
  24. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    A fiction writer who claims authority, or even a scientist who claims authority, does not carry the same weight as a peer-reviewed scientific research published in reputable scientific journals. The peer-reviewed scientific research journals, and there are thousands of them, which present studies on the cause and effects of global warming, have determined that global warming is every bit as real as gravity, and it is caused by carbon dioxide emissions.

    The peer review process prevents bias from affecting the studies, and the studies themselves are clear, both on the fact of global warming, and its cause, no matter what your thriller-novel writer has to say.

    There is a real difference between reputable scientific research, and propaganda. The techniques used to discredit the actual scientific research, have been propagandist. The Michael Crichton's of this debate are like the doctors in the 1950s who claimed that smoking was good for you.

    As an example of the propagandist techniques: a straw-man argument has often misrepresented statements like my statement above, to say that "scientists" (rather than "peer reviewed studies in scientific journals") are not agreed on the issue. When you examine the argument closely, "scientist" (unlike "peer reviewed studies") can not only be biased, but need not necessarily even be "scientists" in the conventional sense. Many of these "scientists" have degrees in the social sciences. An economics major can be a "scientist" by that measure, let alone a chemist who has done exactly zero studies on global warming. That's why it's peer reviewed study, and not just anyone who can be called "scientist" must be the key for determining truth.

    Charlie
     
  25. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Captain Kate... hehe, the song "Run along with captain jack!" just flashed through my head except it was "Run along with captain kate!"

    ~~~

    Anyways, yes some people try to push their own agenda for whatever reason. Maybe the Illuminati payed off Michael to write the novel, who knows?

    About the Global Warming thing - and Al Gore;

    1) The oceans hold the vast majority of CO2 - and water releases dissolved gasses as it gets warmer.

    2) The total solar irradiance has a direct impact on the Sea Surface Temperature - which makes the oceans release more CO2.

    3) Therefore the CO2 scam is a total farce because rising CO2 levels are a result of Global Warming not a cause.

    [​IMG]

    Ever heard of the "Little Ice Age"?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Ice_Age

    That time frame has a direct correlation to a drop in solar irradiance.

    [​IMG]

    A little bit of real science goes a long ways. Earth's global temperature is directly controlled by the sun - which is sort of common sense because that's the source of most of our energy!
     
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