We all have certain issues that get our hackles up-abortion, capital punishment, gun control, religious traditions-and writing is a form of personal expression. When you write a fictional story, you subconsciously add your own thoughts and belief systems into your characters, whether you realize it or not. Writing is intensely personal, but how personal is too personal?
Now more than ever, it is acceptable for writers to insert their political and religious views into their writing. When you compose an essay or article, you tell the world how you view a particular subject or topic, and you will invariably get mixed responses. Fiction writing, however, is a little bit different because you are speaking through characters and circumstances rather than through facts.
After reading a fiction novel, I can usually make an educated guess as to whether the author is conservative or liberal. It is also often apparent which religious views the author holds. Neither of those factors will influence whether or not I read another one of the author’s books again, but it does get me thinking.
When it comes to fiction writing, you can feel free to insert political and religious views wherever you’d like. Your novel or short story is a universe that you have created and your characters can say and think whatever strikes your fancy. There are a few rules of thumb, however, if you want to do this effectively.
1. Don’t Preach
As the author of your fiction novel or short story, you are not supposed to be physically present in the piece. As you narrate, political and religious views must come from a character or from a certain situation that you create. Make sure that you aren’t “stepping out” of the novel to give a religious or political diatribe; instead, incorporate those views into dialogue and thoughts.
2. Make It Appropriate
There are some plots and genres that lend themselves to religious or political debate, while those types of topics would seem out of place in others. For example, if you’re writing a science fiction story set in 3045, it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss the political climate of America in 2007.
3. Give it a Minor Role
Very few readers want to be preached to about religion and politics in your fiction writing, especially if their views are different from your own. If 75% of your fiction writing concerns politics or religion, readers are going to shelve your book in favor of something a little less intense. So give religion and politics a back seat to the main plot of your story.
4. Present Both Sides
While you should never compromise your beliefs by writing a fiction story about something with which you don’t agree, it helps if you present both sides of an argument. A great way to do this is to have “Polar Characters”-one who sits on your side of the fence and another who holds a differing opinion. Not only will this make your writing more realistic, but it will appeal to a wider audience.
5. Have Someone Else Read It
Some people have trouble controlling the amount of political and religious emphasis they put on their work, so have someone else be the judge. Ask a friend, a relative or a colleague to read your book or story and let you know if they think it’s too saturated with political and religious allusions. If it is, consider toning it down for the benefit of both your writing and your readers.