Politics and Religion: At the Roots


Do you have strong political or religious opinions? Maybe you are a staunch Christian Conservative and you already know that your worldview makes its way into your stories in overt and covert ways. Or maybe you don’t think you know much about politics or religion and so you don’t think about them much while you’re writing. But power, whether political or religious, inserts itself into our daily lives in a myriad of ways, and while you may think your novel doesn’t have a political viewpoint, your characters are affected in the same everyday ways.

When you think about politics, do you think about powerful people jockeying for power? That’s part of it, and that game-playing can make for powerful stories. But what about normal people living out their lives far away from stages of power? While politics and religion CAN be the centrepiece of a story, they also make up the base material for every story we tell.

“Every author has a world view which reflects a political stance and shapes what we do, even unconsciously.” – Olive Senior, The Guardian

Let me give you an example: I’m working on a post-apocalyptic series where most of the world’s population has been wiped out by a series of “scourges.” The remaining population is struggling to survive in an inhospitable landscape. The politics of power are vital to the story: who has power? How do they treat those without power? Who has access to the limited resources?

These questions play out even in modern-day stories: politics dictate everything from food prices to job opportunities to the relationships between races and religions. The power plays of politics and religion dictate who is oppressed, what poverty looks like, who starves, who can love whom, who can get jobs, who is arrested and jailed, and what crowds look like.

So, I ask again: do you have strong political or religious opinions? Are all of your characters white and straight? How are they treated by society at large? How are they treated if they go for medical treatment, or for a job interview, or to a fancy gala? What is the world you want to create for your characters?

Politics and religion underpin much of the conflict that is a part of the novels we read. The Hunger Games and Divergent series have strong political messages; 1984 and Animal Farm are classic visions of real and potential political events. By thinking about the political and religious background of your novel, there are many ways that you can create a deeper and more interesting world for your characters to inhabit.

Think about the following questions as you build your next fictitious world:

  • How does the political system work?
  • Who has the right to vote?
  • Is everyone represented in some way in government?
  • What does extremism look like?
  • Who is oppressed?
  • What does protest look like?
  • Who has power?
  • Do religious figures have power?
  • What do the relationships between different religions look like?
  • How does the common person relate to the government?
  • How are resources distributed?
  • Who is allowed to have different types of jobs?
  • Is the society diverse?
  • Who is poor or starving?
  • Does racism exist? Towards whom?
  • Who can marry?

When you think about political situations, explore them from different angles. If there is political conflict in your story, what would be the ideal outcome in terms of your political beliefs? What would a negotiated situation look like? And what would it look like if the worst result were to happen? This can also be a way to explore the different political opinions that might exist in your real-life sphere.

The more you know about the outside forces that shape your characters, the more depth your world will have. In this way, literature of all kinds always has a political viewpoint that reflects the author’s beliefs.

What do you think? Can literature be free of political views? Let me know in the comments?



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