Ideologues

I cannot remember who, but a literary critic for the TIME magazine once wrote: “Ideologues, of whatever persuasion, make lousy readers of fiction”. Christian fundamentalists have attacked the Harry Potter series saying that it promotes paganism. Feminists can’t accept Cinderella. Nazis have made colossal bonfires out a long list of excellent books. Communists. Capitalists. Catholics. Muslims. Pacifists. Militarists. Anarchists. Royalists. None of them hated their most hated books because they failed to entertain. They hated them because the books did not fit their ideology. And that is NOT what fiction is about.

You might dislike Lord of the Rings because you think it is a meandering, slow moving, overly dense book, and there is nothing wrong with that. But some people have disliked Lord of the Rings because, they said, it is a “capitalist conspiracy to keep the proletariat in their place”. For all the charms of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, social mobility is not one of them. Because of this, ideologues have found a reason to hate Hobbits.

If you are one of those people who cannot accept a work of fiction that does not fit your view of the world, don’t bother to try to write one. If you cannot, for any reason, drop the Harry Potter hate, the Cinderella hate, the Lord of the Rings hate, or the hate of any other book that disagrees with your ideology, you are not meant to be a fiction writer.

Granted there are problems in the world that need to be addressed; the plight of the women, the racial minorities, the homosexuals, the poor, the disadvantaged. You can be passionate about those problems as much as you like, but if your passion makes you see monsters in the woodwork while reading fiction, you cannot make fiction work for you. You are trying to model clay that bends only one way. Your story is an echo chamber of your own opinions.

The objective of a work of fiction is to transport the reader to another world through the medium of print. That must always come first. A work of fiction can also carry a message, but that should always be secondary. If you have to get on a soapbox in the middle of writing fiction, fiction is probably not your thing. There is nothing wrong with that. Some excellent writers have written nothing but non-fiction. Assess yourself and decide if you should change course.

There are, of course, many lousy books in print that are thinly disguised soap boxes for the authors. Some are even best sellers. But nobody really reads them for their literary merit. Readers read them for what they are; thinly disguised opinion pieces. An outright infomercial is more honest.

If you are going to write from the standpoint of your own ideology, do me a favor and stop pretending to be a novelist. If you want to save the world, (or conquer the world, as the case may be) you don’t need to work through fiction to do it. You should start a non-profit or run for office. An anonymous volunteer doing the grunge work in the trenches is much more helpful to the people in need than a writer making up fictional renditions of their real life problems. If real world problems are so important to you, why do you write and not do? Or at least write non-fiction instead?

A fiction writer creates characters he/she loves and make them go through the tortuous travails of outrageous fortune. This is generally NOT a good vehicle for dispersing ideology.

There are many possible motives for wanting to write a work of fiction. But for most successful writers, the biggest reason is the joy of writing. Most other motives will not, in the long run, help you become a successful writer. Ask yourself why you want to become a writer. It is not at all shameful to realize that you need to change course. Maybe what you really want to do is run for president.

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