Characters with Agendas: How to Write about Politics in Fiction, IV

Nobody is the "bad guy" on the British cabinet in
37 Days; everyone speaks from a position
determined by personal values.
So how does a fiction writer prevent a novel from turning into a polemic (note: some of them don't). The best solution appears to be to start in the middle--

That is, to place the characters in the middle of the political situation and then divulge the problem entirely from those characters' points of view. They can be as befuddled by the complex and contradictory agendas--or as ignorant of them--as the audience (at least initially).

The writer should not be befuddled. Like a badly plotted murder mystery, a confused political novel will devolve into a morass of over-explanations or a frantic attempt to tidy up disparate realities (yes, political agendas conflict but they conflict within an overarching worldview; although Keynes and Hayek disagree, they still understand each other). My personal view is that this lack of consistency works on Star Trek because I don't believe Star Trek IS a political story (despite Deep Space Nine); I think it is Folktales in Space.

But if a movie/novel/series intends to deliver a political framework, then the little pieces that readers glimpse shouldn't increase their confusion; rather, the readers should start to see a bigger picture even if the characters don't.
Like in Blue Morning, in Queen of 
Attolia, characters can't sacrifice "all"
for love or affection. Political ramifications
require more complex responses.

In the manga series Blue Morning, for instance, there are three political agendas at play: (1) Katsuragi's initial decision to oust his charge from head of the Kuze household: (2) Katsuragi's later decision to protect his charge and force him to apply for a higher rank; (3) his charge's decision to give Katsuragi what he initially wanted. Unfortunately, (3) doesn't simply cancel out (1) and (2) because the political actions that both characters throw into motion complicate a simple resolution: they make enemies of the wrong people or agree to make trades with different families or, occasionally, the same families but for different reasons. Katsuragi especially has to deal with the ramifications of snowballs he set in motion--based on (1)--ten years earlier.

This is all surprisingly clear--though not to the characters.

Likewise, in the docudrama 37 Days the (seemingly unlikely) confluence of events that led up to WWI are depicted (largely) from the point of view of the British Foreign Secretary, Edward Grey (actually, the events are related by a young assistant to an assistant of Edward Grey's). The audience experiences the snowballing/dominoes-falling sensation alongside those in power (how on earth did the assassination of a single political figure in Europe lead to all this?!). In the end, Britain's choice to enter the war seems both inevitable AND avoidable precisely because we have seen it from the inside rather than the outside.

And in C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series, although Bren, the genius human ambassador, does provide the reader with a great deal of internal political analysis, he is only able to analyze what he actually knows, including the knowledge that he cannot move the involved parties about as if they were characters on a chessboard; his insights may be vast; his resources and power have limitations.

Not only do these approaches make the writer's job easier, they also make the results more credible. The omniscient character who sees all and predicts all is not believable. Hindsight is 20/20. Living IN the political moment ain't so much.

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