Fictional Characters and Their Political Interests

Hello Story Empire readers, Gwen with you today and together we’re going to consider the political interests of our characters. This is Part 2 of last month’s post on Religion and Politics. Let’s dive into it.

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About a month ago, I watched the movie, A Private War. It is a biopic based on the life of war correspondent Marie Colvin. It haunts me still. She lost an eye and later her life in the embattled areas of the Middle East. It is her beliefs that are relevant to our topic today.

Marie’s friends and colleagues tried to dissuade her from returning to the war-torn areas. She would not listen to them. She believed it essential to be the voice of the people.

“War is not so terrible for governments,” she said in the movie, “for they are not wounded or killed like ordinary people. I feel that we’ve failed if we don’t face what war does, if we don’t face the human horrors and tell people what really happens when all sides try to obscure the truth.”

Marie challenged leaders, provided evidence of massacres, and huddled with the bereft and the inconsolable. She cared about the people – not political parties or regimes.

Most of us have not been in a war zone, but all of us have felt the divisiveness and at times the hate manifested in today’s political environment. It’s so pervasive that we cannot ignore it, and only with great effort can we disconnect from its poison.

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What if writers followed Marie’s lead and gave voice to the distress felt by all? What if our fictional characters took opposing sides and then found each other in the middle? What if we explored the human cost of the division and offered a healing resolution to it all?

We are in a war zone of sorts, and though I don’t have answers, I have a few suggestions.

  1. Humans are political by nature. Some of us identify as conservatives, others of us side with liberals, and many of us are unaffiliated. What we all share is a concern for the greater good. If we can focus on our characters’ struggles to find and serve this common good, we create the possibility of understanding.
  2. During war, during this war, it’s important to concentrate on the human cost. John Dingell famously said, “War is a failure of diplomacy.” This is a truth we can expose through our characters. We can show how destructive the lack of diplomacy can be, even within a family.
  3. If we choose to include politics in our stories, it is important to research the various positions. When I wrote my thrillers, I subscribed to five newspapers and multiple military blog sites. As a consequence, I began to see the distortions and how messages are carried throughout the media. If you want to do the same, even simple steps like comparing the news coverage on liberal and conservative TV or radio stations will help. It is likely that you’ll find that truth often resides somewhere in the middle. Perhaps one of our characters could be the voice for our investigations and discoveries.  

To conclude, I am deeply moved by Marie Colvin’s response when asked why she wrote about the horrors of war. She said, “I suppose to look back at it and say I cared enough to go to these places and write something that would make someone else care as much about it as I did at the time.”

Incredible, don’t you think?

Thank you for joining me in the murky waters of politics. I’d love to know if you include political themes or issues in your writing. If you do, won’t you please share your recommendations?

Take care and stay well, my friends. I’ll see you once again next month.

63 thoughts on “Fictional Characters and Their Political Interests

  1. Your posts about controversial topics are always well thought out and evocative, Gwen. I often have political themes running through my stories. Usually, the struggle is between the “powerful” and the “powerless.” The way I handle the politics is to focus on the experiences and emotions of my characters versus any political point I want to make. Writing fantasy makes it a little easier, perhaps because it’s less specific to the struggles we’re facing today. Great post!

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    • Thank you, Diana. Focusing on the experiences and emotions of your characters seems a great way to manage the world of politics. We can’t avoid politics, but we can try to disarm it or humanize it through our writing choices. Thank you for pointing this out.

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    • I very much agree with you, Michael. These days, I research everything. Thank you for commenting and for adding your good wishes. 😊

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  4. Thank-you for this The eye-patch, her words, her death. Scripted or her exact words, war is not so terrible for governments.
    In any writing, I’d find it hard to exclude politics. ‘ We appoint our government’ – as one prof reminded us, adding, I’m paraphrasing of course – We are responsible for what happens.’

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    • Thank you, Esther, for reminding us that we are responsible for what happens. We vote, support this person or that person, and so we are both part of the problem and part of the solution. 😊

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  5. An excellent post, Gwen! I think that many of us write our stories for the same reason Marie Colvin did, explaining, “I suppose to look back at it and say I cared enough to go to these places and write something that would make someone else care as much about it as I did at the time.” Thanks for sharing Marie’s thoughts and your own on characters (and writers) and their political interests. Well done!

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  6. Wonderful post, Gwen. Thank you for sharing Marie’s story. I’ve lost interest in politics these days, as it seems to be merely a cloak for practitioners to openly hate their fellow humans. We’ve gotten too far away from the “Love thy neighbor as thyself” concept. It’s now, “Hate those who support that other side.” There are some people whom I once considered bright and knowledgeable in current events. Unfortunately, many have become little more than followers fiercely defending one side or the other, regurgitating propaganda talking points as if they are original thoughts. As for politics in my writing, I think I’ve managed to avoid that so far. Should I decide to write that political story, I will most certainly follow your suggestions here. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on such a divisive subject.

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    • Thank you, Beem. I very much agree with you that we’ve gotten far far away from the “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Many of us have grown silent and perhaps more prayerful as the chaos builds. I’ve found comfort in nature through it all and consider each wild flower a heavenly gift. Take good care of yourself.

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  7. Marie’s story grabs you. To think what she sacrificed.

    I don’t add politics into my writing. I don’t post political signs in my yard either. I work for a public safety consulting firm, and must be neutral at all time. However, even if I didn’t work there I wouldn’t add politics to my works. Although I have strong opinions, I don’t want my opinions to shine through in my work. Every is entitled to what they believe and putting my opinion out there will not change anything, but it could ruffle some feathers.

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    • Marie’s story is a powerful one, and it haunts me still. Thank you, Michele, for adding to the conversation. You are so right about ruffling feathers — and that gives me pause. 😊

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  8. Politics makes me uncomfortable, so I don’t write about it. For a long time now, I’ve tried to avoid talking about politics in general. People get too angry, and I hate conflict. So instead, I concentrate on what affects ordinary people and write about that. That’s what matters to me. People should be nurtured and allowed to blossom. And that’s hard enough to do when things are decent.

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    • Politics makes me uncomfortable as well, Judi. Thank you for focusing on the good in people — so necessary during these rough times especially. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post, Gwen:) You make a great point of trying to go in the middle of both sides and find the truth. I rarely touch on politics, if I do I try to find the human side of it, and that glimmer of hope in all that horror. In historical fiction for me I don’t try to understand the why as much as how ordinary people navigated living in what they did. In current stories, I focus on the possibility of what one person could do if the two teams were left on the sidelines. Your stories opened up new possibilities and directs which to look. I guess for me there always has to be a bit of hope even in such a volatile event as war or normal politics.

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  10. You (and John) did a wonderful job in handling politics in your series. My stories tend to be YA, so there aren’t much politics in them. I’ve read (and loved) several dystopian stories which discuss politics of a fictional society. I’ve never been turned off by how the authors handled the subject. It is a bit touchy, and one should be cautious, but if done well, it can be very powerful. Great post, Gwen! 🙂

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    • Thanks so much, Yvette. I always appreciate your stories. They may not include explicit politics, but you touch on difficult topics with great sensitivity. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Marie Colvin is a true heroine! What a strength of character she had. I steer away from politics on all levels, personal and in my writing. But that being said, I have read several books where politics was the focus, such as The Captains and the Kings. That book changed my view of world government completely. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject, Gwen.

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  12. I had to read your article with one eye closed and the other squinting–fearful of what ‘politics’ would mean to you. You handled it well. Like Jill, I avoid politics in my writing. Half the people will always get angry. And, I’ve dropped quite a few favorite authors for lecturing to me about the subject!

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    • Thank you, Jacqui. When someone lectures me, I end up tuning out and focusing instead on the person’s need to impose his or her beliefs. We humans may enjoy attending a lecture, but we definitely don’t like being lectured to. LOL.

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  13. Thought-provoking as always, Gwen. You never disappoint.

    I don’t write politics into my novels, but I did delve into an uncomfortable subject in my Mayhem Series (the savage treatment and annihilation of Native Americans and their land). It was important for the main character to learn the truth about her heritage, and the subject matter changed the entire trajectory of the series.

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    • Thank you, Sue, for your kind comment. The politics behind the annihilation of Native Americans is “savage” and needs to be exposed. I’m going to check out your Mayhem Series. All the best…

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Craig. Like you, I’m drawn to indirect expression, even though I’ve written thrillers. BTW, I’ve never mentioned political parties — that’s a scary world for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Your beautiful stories are always inspiring, Jill. They remind us of all that is good in life and show us manifest truth. You write the antidote to politics. 💗

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Marie’s story is remarkable. Thank you for sharing it. And for your considerate and poignant take to the topic. Your three suggestions are spot-on.

    I have written veterans, and I have touched on a political coup (focusing on characters and repercussions and not the battles themselves). It’s a fine line to walk. I agree with you that a spotlight on the people and everyone’s desire for betterment is a good way to approach it. (Unless your point is to write a one-sided political statement, but I don’t do that.)

    I really enjoyed this series, Gwen. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Excellent post, Gwen. I haven’t written politics into my books, but likely some of my views show in my books. I like the way you suggested approaching it. We should all focus on the greater good.

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    • Thank you, Joan. I never expected to include politics in my writing, but circumstances led me to its doorstep and I couldn’t avoid it. Who knows, you might find it popping up in one of your mysteries. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  16. The bravery and compassion of Marie Colvin is inspiring. Her comment “we’ve failed if we don’t face what war does, if we don’t face the human horrors and tell people what really happens when all sides try to obscure the truth” is such a crucial one. There is a saying that history is written by the victors and there’s an unpalatable truth in that – distortion and misrepresentation abound, but it’s the people who’ve experienced the grim reality of war who know what it felt like to them. Fascinating topic, Gwen. x

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    • So so true, Trish — “distortion and misrepresentation abound.” Hopefully, if we all do our part, we can rebuild trust in humankind. The stakes are high and time seems evasive. Thank you for sharing so deeply. 💗

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Gwen, this is a wonderful way to approach this topic, and I love your suggestions and examples. Done sensitively, instead of with a sledge hammer, I believe we can reach most people in our writing. As you say, many of us are for the greater good, and at the very least, we strive for peace and stability within our lives and can empathise for others who seek the same. Of course, there are always exceptions and those who only know how to argue rather than discuss.

    Excellent post, and thanks for sharing! 💕🙂

    Liked by 3 people

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  19. HI Gwen, this is an excellent post. You have written exactly what I believe and why I write historical fiction that exposes a lot of ideological truths. My purpose in life is to educate people through stories and make them think about things like the consequences of climate change and the sixth mass extinction and of course war, which unveils the real greed and desire for power that drives a lot of people in high places. Sometimes, of course, people can’t face the truth. I discover that when I wrote a short story about the reality of the South African farm murders. People don’t want to believe that such atrocities still happen.

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    • I thought of you when I wrote this, Robbie. Thank you for writing about the hard topics of life, and thank you for explaining as you have. I didn’t want to see, nor did I know about, the atrocities of greed, until I began researching political power and war. I see differently now and it’s a painful burden.

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      • HI Gwen, I read about all the hard topics in life too. I like to be informed and I think about how a situation could have been handled differently. It is hard to witness the people of the world dealing with the same issues over and over again. Thanks again for this insightful post.

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