I increasingly find myself escaping political media by working on my next book, a novel. November is National Novel Writing Month, so it provides the perfect excuse to step away from the 24/7 political news coverage. As it turns out, fiction is becoming a hot new genre among many political writers.
After writing my first book, “Finding Mr. Righteous,” a memoir about dating and becoming a Christian, I decided I wanted my second book to be a little less heavy and personal—the type of book I’d want to bring on vacation. Now that I’m in the thick of this journey into fiction, I want to share some of the advice I’ve received about the importance of telling good stories.
Among the others embracing the fiction genre is author and former representative Thaddeus McCotter. He became interested in fiction because “While a non-fiction subject can often be divisive, the most edifying fiction unites people by providing insights into and affirming the universality of the human condition.”
Exploring the World of Ideas Outside Politicking
McCotter has completed a private detective novel set in Detroit, “Nain Rouge Blues,” which he hopes will be published this winter or next spring. He is also working on a political satire, “Think Dink!,” which Post Hill Press will publish next summer.
McCotter embraces the notion that conservatives shouldn’t present ourselves as one-dimensional beings. He said, “Politicized art isn’t art, it’s propaganda. Knowing politics isn’t life but only a part of life (and an unpleasant one at that), conservatives (and all authors) should also realize nothing is more dramatic than a person’s struggle to persevere over all obstacles to realize their dreams and find redemption – or not.”
Author and columnist Kurt Schlichter has also embraced the fiction genre. In his latest book, “People’s Republic,” he writes about what happens after America splits into two separate countries after decades of political and cultural divisions. I asked Schlichter why he wanted to tell this particular story:
After my experience in the Balkans, I am very concerned about the elite’s destruction of the rule of law and how it threatens to split the country. I’ve written articles on it in Townhall, but a novel like People’s Republic allows me to show the audience the results, to make them feel it in a way a column just can’t. I can immerse them in the world I fear we are creating.
As McCotter noted, no creative endeavor can succeed in transporting the audience when it’s hitting its audience over the head with a political message. Schlichter said:
[I]t’s got to be a good story. It’s got to be fun to read, or no one is going to read it. That’s what Andrew Breitbart was saying – the real Andrew. You have to be in popular culture and you have to try to master the form. I like spy novels. Thrillers are fun. And I hope People’s Republic is fun. That’s actually been the first question I ask. ‘Was it fun? Was it a good read?’ Not ‘Now do you get my political point?’
Focus on the Writing and the Story Itself
Schlichter is absolutely correct that a “good story” (and good writing) is paramount. One of my favorite fiction writers, Elmore Leonard, has several rules for good writing. No matter how many times I read them, I keep going back to read them. Among the rules most helpful to me: Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.” Keep your exclamation points under control. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Of course, “breaking” these rules doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, but it does help you be more aware of your crutches. That’s what makes non-fiction writers using fiction to tell their story so intriguing. We’re all getting out of our comfort zones.
In 2014, National Review’s Senior Political Correspondent Jim Geraghty released “The Weed Agency,” a humorous novel about a bumbling government agency. In many instances, fiction offers some comfort for political writers. Geraghty said, “Your choice of protagonist is going to say a lot about how you see the world, and your choice of antagonist, too.” Like Schlichter’s “People’s Republic,” Geraghty’s book has a clear political point of view, but he knows what must come first:
I love data and charts, but nobody turns to their friends or significant other and says, ‘Hey, do you want to go out to the Multiplex and watch some data and charts?’ People crave stories. They’ve done so since the first people gathered around a campfire and told myths and legends and tales of their ancestors. A lot of our fictional stories are meant to offer a lesson, consciously or not, about what kind of person you’re supposed to be. You see a lot of stories celebrating courage, and not so many celebrating cowardice. Detective stories are about solving a crime and righting a wrong. Comedies aim to make us laugh but also spotlight the foibles and foolishness inherent in the human condition.
For writers who aren’t as lazy about research as I am, Geraghty reminded me that fiction does pose a lot of opportunity for his favorite part:
One of my favorite parts of writing fiction is the research. If I set a scene in the early 1980s, I want to get as many of the details right as possible, from what song is playing on the radio to the type of car to the architecture of the setting, etcetera. I want to avoid any obvious mistakes, which can take a reader out of the story, and if you happened to alive in the time and place I’m describing, I want the scene to take you back and feel like you could have witnessed this entirely imaginary scene.
We’re in a 24/7 news cycle that constantly reminds us of what’s trending or breaking. On social media we see people’s perfectly cultivated lives, gripes, and political views on who is and who isn’t today’s Hitler. At the heart of the trend toward fiction, both readers and writers want to be transported to a different place. Now is the perfect time to flex your creative muscles and escape.