Arguably, both politics and good fiction are about ideas. The ideas explored by politics surround questions like: How shall people be governed? What is the role of government? What is the nature of power? Can we arrange governing systems for maximum benefit to all?
Fiction also deals with ideas, though these are not limited to political ideas. Often they boil down to basic questions of philosophy: What is beauty? What is truth? What is justice? What happens after death?
But my real question is whether writers should make their political leanings obvious in their stories. Some authors certainly do. L. Neil Smith is very libertarian. Robert Heinlein, too, leaned libertarian. Isaac Asimov leaned to the liberal side, though not blatantly so. Ayn Rand was passionate about her political philosophy, which she felt was new and different enough to have its own name—Objectivism.
In my view, there are dangers in making your political views obvious in your fiction. For one thing, you can turn off at least half of your potential audience. Those who disagree with your political stance won’t read more than one of your books.
If your intent is to persuade, consider this. Have you ever heard anyone say something like this after a political argument: “Thank you. I’ve come around to your side, based on the strength of your logic. I see now that I’ve been voting the wrong way my whole life. Thanks again, for helping me see the light.” Almost nobody changes his party affiliations that easily.
Another danger in overt political fiction is predictability, and therefore dullness. When the good guys believe as the writer does, and the bad guys are of the other political party, the reader knows who will win. The reader can feel like she’s being preached to. Clever and rare is the writer who can represent the opposite side in a fair and convincing way.
It’s my view that Ayn Rand achieved this in her stage play “Night of January 16th.” The play occurs, for the most part, in a courtroom. Near the end, the judge dismisses the jury to their room to render a decision. At that point it’s announced to the audience that they are the jury and will be allowed to vote guilty or not guilty. (Either that or twelve audience members are selected at the start to play the jury.) A vote of not guilty represents a tilt toward Objectivism, and a vote of guilty means the opposite. There are two endings to the play, and the actors perform the one voted on by the “jury.” I understand that, in all the plays performances since it premiered in 1935, the ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ outcomes occur about equally often.
My recommendation, if you’re set on writing overt political fiction, is to (1) do so in a subtle, metaphorical way without preaching to your readers, (2) poke fun at or lambaste all politicians equally, focusing on the separation between politicians and the rest of us, or (3) be as even-handed as possible, with bad guys and good guys on both sides.
What are your thoughts? No, not about the last election—I mean about the prudence of putting politics in your fiction! Leave a nonpartisan comment and let me know. Steering well clear of donkeys and elephants, I’m—