With our country so dramatically divided along political lines, I’m wondering how many of us are exploiting this rich source of conflict in our storytelling. Of course, there are many reasons not to do so, among them the danger of including time-stamped references that annoy our readers and the trap of using today’s headlines to drive a story that may not be published for years to come. So are there perennial political and social issues that can drive a story without running the danger that a book will become obsolete?
I would say ‘yes,’ based on how Raymond Chandler wrote about corruption and racketeering in southern California in the 1930s and '40 in The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely--books that became classics that are avidly read today. Another example of using current events to write a timeless story is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which he calls a ‘non-fiction novel’. In this case I think the timelessness of the book comes from Capote’s masterful portrayal of the psychological relationship between two murderers who commit a horrendous crime that they might not have been capable of as individuals.
In my own work, I strive for a balance – for example, there are some current events, such as Russia’s interference in the government of Chechnya, that I used to drive elements in the plot of The Last Matryoshka. My reasoning was that this was a persistent conflict that might change but unfortunately will not disappear overnight. In Ask the Dead, one of the antagonists is an anarchist, whose misguided idealism and thoughtless actions have a domino effect that harms several innocent characters in the book. In this case, the material was not time-sensitive and will hopefully pass the test of time.
Using political and social issues to drive a story is a big topic! So please - fellow readers and writers – join this discussion and share your own favorite “political” mysteries or examples from your own writing if you would like to do so.