Fiction can often deal with governments, but the biggest issue I’ve noticed is that governments are too often conflated with politics.
I previously reviewed Freehold, and it’s a perfect example of a political bend taken to an extreme in your writing. Freehold is a science fiction book about the titular libertarian colony that functioned perfectly well until refugees started migrating en masse. You can already see where the author’s political leanings favor.
But see, that didn’t have to be the case. In this case, the author framed the book as a way to convey his political opinion instead of using his political opinion as a background for an actually powerful story.
If your message is more important than plot or character your book will ring hollow. Readers don’t like being preached to, even if they agree with you.
So I offer you these three ways to put politics/government in your story without falling for the trap of messaging.
1. Show a political system you don’t like as functioning well
If you don’t agree with a monarchy then try to include one as a functioning government in a story. If you can do that, then you can provide a message with your heroes to say “I don’t like monarchies”, while still showing that they do function.
Obviously, monarchy is just an example, but this idea applies to other political systems and opinions. If you hate communism, try to portray it as a functioning society in your story.
2. Show other opinions as being valid outside the main characters
Some people won’t agree with you, and that’s fine. Only showing your political opinion as being the “right one” will lead to half, if not more, of your readers being annoyed. The easiest way to show this is by showing the political idea operating as #1 mentioned, but you can simply just have the opinions spoken of by other characters (not necessarily held to by a main character, though… that’s #3).
A good example of this is when an opinion is shown on news reports as being discussed. No one is particularly “wrong”, but the discussion takes place nonetheless.
Still put your opinion in there! It’s fine, but acknowledge that people disagree with you and that it’s valid.
Be careful, though, of being a “middle of the road” person. Bigotry or racism shouldn’t be acknowledged as valid political opinions, but a character who holds those opinions can still be a friend to the protagonist. I’ll leave it to you how to handle issues like that, but political issues themselves are something that should be open to discussion.
3. Show a main character as having the opinions you disagree with
This is an offshoot of what I mentioned previously. Instead of the opinion coming from a third party you could have a main character share an opinion you don’t agree with. Even if your main character is a die-hard libertarian, the communist friend they have will keep them in check and they’ll playfully joke about their differences. It is entirely possible to have this without it becoming a mechanism that the reader sees as “preaching”.
Now the reason I split this out is because this isn’t for everyone. Sometimes the beliefs that oppose yours disgust you, and that’s fine. If you don’t want to work on a story where one of the main characters believes a politic opinion you don’t agree with, that’s perfectly fine.
Ultimately, to avoid the pitfalls of writing political fiction, you simply have to avoid becoming a mouthpiece for your particular politics. Oh, sure, you can certainly preach. But once you’ve done that readers who disagree with you will be gone.
“I didn’t want them anyways,” you may say. But is it worth losing readers because you prefer a flat tax? Or because you think term limits in the senate are a good idea? These are the kinds of things I’m talking about, not moral issues.
Remember to keep writing!
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You may like some of my other posts about writing:
Going from Outline to Manuscript
Revising Your First Draft Novel
Worldbuilding: Religion and Philosophy
Also check out my book reviews:
Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein
Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt
Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
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