Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What is it about writers?

A writer friend (I promised Vicki I wouldn’t reveal that it was her) pointed out to me recently that many writers of fiction are very left-wing in their political views. (No, I’m not going to get into politics in this blog entry.) Thinking about this after it was said to me, I realized that it’s pretty true. Many of the real firebrands for left-wing ideology have been/are writers. It’s why we often get targeted by governments that are not happy about that fact. But more importantly, why are many of us like that in the first place?

Well, I’d like to posit this: it could be because we’re wired that way, but it could also be because of what we do for our living. The politics of the left tend to be about seeing varying shades of gray. The politics of the right, however, tend to be built around black and white ideas, shading isn’t really welcome to that kind of thinking.

Now, in order to write successful and impactful fiction, a writer has to be able to see all those variations and shadings that every person has in their personality, the quirks and foibles that make people distinctive and interesting, and then bring that forth in their characters. If you can’t do that, chances are your fiction won’t cut it because the characters won’t seem real. Regardless of political persuasion, everyone has vagaries in their personality, and that's what makes them interesting.

So, could it be that because we fiction writers spend so much time crawling around in our characters’ heads, that we just naturally carry those gray shades into the way we live our lives? Or, is it because we tend to see life in shades of gray that we’re able to write successful* fiction?

In other words, which came first, the novelistic chicken or the political egg?

Read and discuss this with yourself, then let me know what you think. Does my premise hold any water in your view?

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*Successful as in “Does it work?” — as opposed to “We’re rolling in dough because of our novels”.

9 comments:

Vicki Delany said...

I've recently read Inside Out by Barry Eisler. Eisler is very 'political' and has a blog for his non-fiction writings. He is concerned about the takeover of the U.S. by the moneyed oligarcy (the word he uses) and erosion of the rule of law for the rest of us. Unfortunately he gets a bit too preachy in this book and the narrative almost stops at points for a lecture. He didn't seem to do that as much in his other books. Getting more and more worried, perhaps?

peter_may said...

There could be something in what you say, Rick. I think that, fundamentally, to be a writer you have to be able to empathize with your characters. Which means that as a person you are able to see and feel other people's pain. For the most part right-wingers can't see past their own.

Rick Blechta said...

Peter, that's what I was trying to say, I guess and the empathy is certainly at the bottom of it as far as I'm concerned.

Vicki, anytime an author of fiction clearly steps up on the soapbox, I lose interest. Bottom line: if it doesn't add anything to the story, even a tiny bit, you're being overindulgent. Write an easy or a non fiction book instead if you want to get something off your chest.

J.P. Farris said...

I've always considered myself to be in the middle - leaning neither too far to the left or the right - if that makes any sense. But when it comes to politics I lean at least a little to the right whereas my best friend leans a little to the left. It makes for some great discussions and we are close enough to the middle to see and accept each others differing views.

Vicki Delany said...

Good for you, J.P. I fear we're increasingly all in our little echo chambers.

Rick Blechta said...

J.P., I feel that it's those at the extremes that society has to fear. They seem to be the ones most inclined to make the problems, mostly because they know they are SO correct.

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

IMO, thinking comes first and those who think realize the gray shadings of things and may feel compelled to write about them, in novels showing and in nonfiction telling the different ways things can be, that issues are complex. This issue of good writers being liberal to left politically is just what I have been discussing with the writer who first pointed this issue out to me.
--Brenda

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