Fictional Politics, Part 1

One of the greatest difficulties in writing world fiction is creating a believable political background.

By world fiction, I'm referring to those sub-genres--sci-fi, world fantasy, romance--where the characters strut across a larger landscape than their own backyards (contemporary novels tend to focus on "my angsty life!" which is irritating enough; it gets even worse when the personal angst is combined with angst about world conditions).

Creating a believable political landscape can be difficult. On the one hand, the politics can't be too simplistic. On the other, the story needs to be more than a polemic or diatribe.

Here is one of several suggestions for writers who need to create some kind of political backdrop to their narrative:

1. Keep basic human nature in mind.

Red Letter Media points out, correctly, that Star Wars I (the dumb Star Wars I, not Star Wars IV [which I think of as Star Wars I]) presents a completely unreal and unbelievable political problem. Plinkett breaks it all down better than I can. Suffice it for me to say that Lucas would have been better served if he'd stuck the bad guy in nineteenth century dress, given him a handlebar mustache, then had him tie the Jedi to the train tracks while chortling, "Ha ha ha, I have put my plans in action!"

Wait! Isn't that kind of what happens in that movie?

Town meeting--
it looks boring . . . cause it is!
The fact is, human nature is self-serving, yes, but it is boringly self-serving, mundanely self-serving, yawningly self-serving. As P.J. O'Rourke states of a democratic town meeting, "It's like being a cell in a plant," and to a degree he could say that about any government. Okay, yes, Henry VIII sounds exciting, killing off all those wives, but between the executions, the diplomatic legalistic yammering doublespeak would hit the snooze button on anyone's alarm.

Politics is boring! In realistic trade negotiations . . . first of all, they wouldn't involve Jedi . . . but let's suppose they do . . . the Jedi show up--with their team of geeks who did all the real work--and talk. And talk. And show their graphs (prepared by the geeks). And talk. And talk more. And show more graphs.

Then the other guys blather on. And blather. And blather. And show their graphs. While blathering.

After which, everyone has donuts.

Political conflict may involve big scary things like executions and, well, war. But in the short term--that is within the confines of character development--political conflict is petty, snarky, crafty, and localized (more on the latter later). C.S. Lewis and Tolkien between them do a fine job of making this clear in their world fantasies. Sauron is big and bad. Everyone else is satisfying earthly, understandable emotional and psychological needs, even the orcs.

And few petty scenes in fiction have been as well-written as Edmund's interior dialog during his trek through the snow to the White Witch's palace. He is NOT thinking in terms of dynasties; he is thinking in terms of getting back at people in the here and now.

Granted, it is much more exciting (relatively speaking) to watch people FIGHT! and ESCAPE! than discuss contract sub-clauses. But that immediately leads me to Point 2, which I will tackle in a separate post:

If you, the writer, can't keep human nature in mind when writing about politics, don't write about politics!

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