I don’t know how you’re feeling today, but 2019 is leaving me with a gigantic hangover. So many things all across the globe seem to be going wrong, starting with wannabe dictators and not even finishing with countries in flames caused by global warming. Of course, although none of these things started in 2019, they are, on a daily basis becoming increasingly urgent.
As writers, our craft calls upon us to spin characters and plots out of thin air. But the air is so filled with doomsday scenarios that who needs to create fictional ones? It seems to me that, to be relevant, a writer’s work needs to speak to the issues that face us today. It shouldn’t be blatant. That wouldn’t be fiction; it would be a political blog (– like this one). And we want to create art, not in-your-face rhetoric. But I can think of many novels and plays that take important issues and turn them into analogies, or parables, that are good stories in themselves. With a bit of thought, the reader (or audience) realizes that the author is actually inferring something on another plane.
One of the best instances is The Crucible, the play by Arthur Miller. His subject is the witch-hunt in Salem Massachusetts in 1692. This is already a story-worthy conflict based on historical facts. But he wrote it in 1953 as an analogy for the witch-hunt against Communists in the US in the early 1950s that was led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. The beauty of it is, even if the memory of McCarthyism fades, Miller’s play still stands as a powerful story about persecution.
Today, hearing a certain person constantly shouting “witch-hunt” as detractors attempt to hold him accountable for his crimes, suggests an entirely new avenue for fiction writers to go down, where the purported victim is the perpetrator. Not to forget the gaslighting we are being subjected to!
Another opportunity for fiction writers to weave significant tales is the use of satire or the creation of a dystopia. Just think of the horrific dystopian and satirical world orders in George Orwell’s works, 1984 and An Animal Farm are. The reader experiences Orwell’s visions of how that reader probably does not want the world to become. Cautionary tales! Speaking of that, think: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
Even the many superhero fiction novels/comics that, having been made into blockbuster films and are filling movie theatres worldwide, are an expression of our need for good guys who will overcome evil. No need to list examples of them here. They abound in popular culture and, besides speaking out on an elemental level to our sense of justice, they are lots of fun.
And for us? As writers, we may not be Orwells, Millers or even George Lucases (Star Wars), but we can still create stories about issues important to each of us. You never know how far a story will go…
With a new year in mind, maybe you, or I, will be inspired to tackle injustice, immorality or corruption, not just by writing a blog post, but by telling a story set locally, or on a global stage, or maybe in a galaxy far, far away and long, long ago.
“In our age, there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues….” ― George Orwell