Do Political References Help or Hurt Your Novel?

Conjure Woman's Cat

From a Lena Review

I have been looking forward to this book. At the end of “Eulalie and Washerwoman” Eulalie was leaving to fetch Willie back home. They’ve had a long-standing relationship and Eulalie was ready to take it to the next level. Being a romantic at heart I was ready for this relationship to move forward. So, what does Mr. Campbell do? He puts Eulalie in peril! Which in turn kept me reading late into the night.

- Big Al's Books and Pals

​(Audio Edition): Campbell and Palance present a sober but hopeful look at slowly improving race relations in the 1950s. S.G.B. © AudioFile 2019, Portland, Maine [Published: JUNE 2019]

While writing the three novels in the Florida Folk Magic trilogy, I included political, cultural, and other references because the novels are set in the 1950s and, in one sense, they are historical in theme (but not in plot). I wanted to show not only the political climate of those days in terms of Jim Crow and the Klan, but also references to products, local beliefs, and folklore to create a stable foundation for the story.

If you're writing a novel set in the present day with a plot and theme that focus on volatile issues such as racism, immigration, and climate change, you can't really write that story in a vacuum and ignore the polarized political scene on-going in the novel's background.

Where I think people are dating their novels in a negative way that will hurt those books long term, is by including potshots at one point or another that really have little or nothing to do with the plot. I've read several thrillers lately where characters made jokes about Hillary or jokes about Trump. Yes, they're part of the current scene, but ten years from now, those jokes will be meaningless within the context of the novels.

Some authors include so many product placements, fads, songs, movies, and politics in their novels (as asides and not part of the plots) that these novels will have no long-term carrying power. They'll be as unappealing as a house or apartment with out-of-date styles, color schemes, and appliances.

Patterson and Clinton did a pretty good job with their collaboration for The President is Missing. One reason the book works--in addition to Clinton's knowledge of how the White House functions--is its focus on cyber-terrorism. This issue is here now and will probably be with us for years to come. But I think they spoilt the conclusion of the novel by including a Presidential speech to a joint session of Congress, a lot of which focused on the Democratic Party's viewpoint about current political issues. This speech will make no sense in the future since it's not germane to either the plot or theme of the novel. It seemed to be rather like a cheap trick, agree with it or not.

Deciding how much real life stuff to include in a work of fiction isn't easy. It can hurt you and it can help you. Obviously, it's easier to include if you're writing historical fiction or fiction in any other genre set years ago. All those details help establish the time and place of the novel. 

When real life stuff is included in non-political, non-issue-oriented novels set in the current time, it becomes more problematic.


Random Musings

This page is my "and so forth" page, possibly trivial, unlikely to be earth-shaking, and in some ways just as chaotic in subject matter as an author's thoughts are from day to day. Heavy rain on Saturday the 20th. That reduces our heatwave for a while. Meanwhile, feeling logy--as Dave Letterman used to say--due to another hormone treatment in my prostate cancer saga.  Radiation treatments are scheduled to begin August 1 and run for 40 days (except weekends). The doctor asked if I was depressed about this, and my response was "more like aggravated."

I'm currently re-reading Womack's "The Fortune Teller."  It's been fun to see all the moon landing TV news specials.