Monday, March 29, 2010

Fiction Pet Peeve No. 1

I have a pet peeve in fiction. This may not be my most politically correct post ever, but that's appropriate enough, since my peeve is political.

I recently read, and greatly enjoyed, the YA novel Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones.  It's a good book, with a believable young heroine, Lili, with a complex family situation. Jones' work has a few political themes. Lili comes into her own as she develops her own interests, including human rights issues, and accepts her father's homosexuality and cross-dressing.

I am all for political themes in a novel. What dragged me out of the story was Lili telling her hero, John Wayne, in one of her letters that she'd have to take issue with all that "conservative political stuff you pulled" (paraphrasing, my apologies, as I don't have the novel on-hand right now).

To me, direct political commentary always comes across as jarring in a novel. It's certainly more appropriate in a first person novel, as part of Lili's voice, but I still find it sort of -- rude  (I don't want to sound like I'm picking on Carrie Jones, as I very much enjoyed her novel; this was just the most recent example I've seen).  It's like violating the old mandate about not talking about sex, religion or politics in polite company. By all means, SHOW about sex, religion or politics; but spare me the author's opinions about any of the same. Compel me with your worldview instead. ;)

Why is it rude? Well, to me it always seems like the political commentary comes along with an implicit message that THIS is the right political view, and obviously you, Dear Reader, agree with me. Maybe it's because I'm a libertarian and we tend to think everyone around us is crazy, but I think there are only a few items politically-speaking where there's one clear-cut right answer.  All the other issues, from health care to foreign interventions, are a bit too complex for anyone to have all the right answers.  I think this can make an otherwise excellent book less accessible to a broad audience of readers, unless you expect that only people who agree with you on all points will ever pick up your book!

If there's no reason plot-wise for political expression, I don't want to know if the MC is a Democrat or a Republican,  pro-life or pro-choice, etc.  Now, if the character is working on Obama's campaign or facing an unplanned pregnancy, by all means, get political. Just show me. Don't tell me.   It's a novel, not a political treatise.

I don't think I'm guilty of this one in my own writing, but I'm going to have to double check...

What do you think, crazy pet peeve or no?  Do you have your own writing pet peeves?


Anonymous said...

I don't think it's crazy at all. I really don't like when novels start berating me with politics. I'm probably reading them to get AWAY from all that in the first place. Like you, I don't mind if the story deals with political issues but don't try to sway me with the author's opinions, cleverly placed into the characters' mouths. Fiction is about telling stories, not standing on our soapboxes.

Good post!

Piedmont Writer said...

I agree, politics, needs to be left to the politicians. Especially in a YA novel. Unless you're Holden Caulfield.

Summer said...

Agreed, agreed, agreed. In fact, if I think it has the slightest whiff of overt politics (or religion), I'm going to put it down and walk away.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I'm not usually a fan of political commentary in books, but I will say that both Alice in Wonderland and Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series have some interesting political commentary in them.

I got a kick out of Riordan's take on standardized testing- I think it was in Book #4. And Alice in Wonderland was basically an entire manifesto of political commentary on Victorian England, trussed up as a children's tale. It hits on the British legal system, drug use (the pig baby represents birth defects from opiate use), and other issues. I did a whole report about it once!

Ellen Brickley said...

The second Bridget Jones book does this. Bridget has a fight with Mark Darcy when she finds out he votes Tory because 'Everyone votes Labour!!' She likens dating him to showing up in Cafe Rouge to meet her friends in full hunting garb with a pack of hounds.

In that book, I felt it worked, because the Bridget Jones books were so much a portrait of London in the late 90s. Not name-checking events like the Labour landslide of '97 or Princess Diana's death would have made the book seem false and watered-down.

In general though, I agree with you. I've read and enjoyed books about people with political views very unlike my own, but as soon as the character becomes didactic, I respond in exactly the same way as I do when real people become didactic. I tune out.

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Falen said...

ugh i can't stand politics even a little bit, so that would be a huge turn off to me, even if it was politics i agree with

Jen said...

I'm with you on this one, I wouldn't say its a pet peeve but I believe it's because I don't run across a lot of novels with this, if it did I think I'd find it a pet peeve! I do like to be shown what is going on, not told what to think! Interesting to have it in a YA novel as well...

Great post!

Shelley Sly said...

Agreed. I haven't read the book, so I'm not trying to criticize that particular author, but I just find it annoying in general when I find out that what I'm reading/watching is just an excuse to display someone's political or moral views. No thanks.

Guinevere said...

Thanks E. Elle! I'm glad to know that I'm not alone in feeling that way.

Piedmont, that made me laugh. Holden does indeed get a pass on many things, including politics!

Summer, I think a lot of readers feel that way - no overt politics or religion - and I would think by and large, that's something an author would want to respect. You can reach people more effectively, subtly.

Stephanie, I've only read the first Percy Jackson book, but I can imagine he is not in favor of standardized testing. Hopefully I'll get the chance to read the rest of the series sometime soon!

Alice in Wonderland is a little different for me since the politics (at least in our day and age!) isn't so obvious. The Wizard of Oz is much the same -- it's actually a manifesto of the Populist movement, but unless you study Populism, perhaps in connection with the film, I don't think anyone would pick up on it (You can tell I had a class in college where we watched the Wizard of Oz).

Guinevere said...

Ellen, I agree with you -- I feel like it works for me in Bridget Jones. Perhaps because, well, it's Bridget Jones. ;) But also, a political argument between lovers works for me in fiction, as long as they aren't mere mouthpieces -- I've certainly experienced that one in real life!

Falen, I usually find politics I agree with to be the worst. :p I don't want to see someone I agree with being badly-behaved!

Thanks Jen! I do think it's sort of a rare occurrence, the political intrusion, just because as writers we ARE trained to show not tell, which somewhat removes the hazard.

Me too, Shelley! In fact, I feel sort of cheated -- "I thought you were trying to tell me a good story!". lol

Patti said...

I think it comes down to what you said, show don't tell. If you tell, it sounds like the author's point of view not the character.

arlee bird said...

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