Guest Post – Allan Bishop: Political Tragedy – A Guide to Making Readers Weep

It’s Time To Weep:

Think of your favorite political drama, soap opera, day time melodrama: did you care about the politics, or did you cry when your favorite character died after being purged by the new regime?

Realistically speaking, it isn’t so much that Petyr Baelish is a sociopathic social Darwinist that you like him, but rather his personal—not his symbolic—philosophy is what drew you to him.

Characters are the messengers of political devil’s advocates: whether they represent structuralist oppression or utopian individualism, every character you love or loathe reinforces or challenges your political beliefs.

Political fantasy isn’t just dealing with the double entendre blackmail about the Duke of Areno, who enjoys midnight chats about peanut butter and jelly; it’s their genuine beliefs and ignorances which drive them throughout a story. Whether the short form or the long form, knowing how to create realistic and consistent political conflicts in your fictional setting is the difference between the John F Kennedy versus the Nixon debate: one won television (Kennedy), and the other one won radio (Nixon).

Or in another words, it’s all about the execution.

Real vs. False: Expectations

If you write a political fantasy in the real world or a secondary world, it affects its overall composition. The real world comes with history’s complexities, vices, and immoralities. You can’t just ignore this. The presence of gods, or lack therefore, is another factor to consider: are you going with the Abrahamic faith angle, or the urban fantasy angle where all the gods are real?

Forget about the modern day. You need to understand and plan for what Odin, or Semiramis, or Gilgamesh was doing the past millennia or two. If you don’t have a backstory for your interpretation of a god—whose stories/mythology should be your basis—you are going to have a bad time. Prepare for historians, mythologists, and English teachers taking you to town.

You will make potential readers upset, much like how Spartans and Athenians fought over Ares and Athena: you can’t win them all.

If you go with the secondary world angle, you have more options; however, the more divergent from human morality you stray, the more likely you are to potentially lose your audience, or gain one, likewise. I stress again, you cannot win them all.

Experiment versus Propaganda:

Where you stand on the political spectrum (outside of the United States as well!) doesn’t mean much, unless you’re writing with a certain agenda in mind. Remember this: you can make an argument for a Communist utopia, or accidentally inspire the hippie counter-culture with a Martian Jesus analogue. You never know how people are going to react.

If you write a story as an experiment, like what would happen if the Middle East was the status quo instead of western civilization, you should prepare for the timeline fallout. If the Sassanid Empire rebuffed Islamic conquest/conversion, that would have a HUGE impact on history. Don’t just wing it. Embrace it, and make it a topic to consider!

Do not wing this with idealistic fluffiness or pure intentions; unless your world exists where everyone is ok with everyone, it’s not going to work. Imagining a “better” world is possible, but whose better world is it?

Likewise, in the secondary world, you can get away with more Communist utopianism or Abrahamic absolutionism, because you, the author, configured the world to exist on a certain moral and ethical framework. Don’t run away from it: embrace it.

Consider your work from the context of a political scientist: you are speaking your truth to power. It does not mean you are correct, despite what modern platitudes would have you believe. But nevertheless, make your argument as powerful as possible.

Your Angle:

Tribalism, individualism, realpolitik, structuralism, there are so many different lenses of politics, it is enough to drive a writer mad. Relax, don’t worry.

But remember, just as there is in psychology and sociology, it is a lens, not a truth. Structuralism can explain the macro deficiencies of a political system, but it cannot consider regional influences, or how corruption on the micro scale has little impact on a nation’s macro scale prosperity.

You’re not trying to write the world’s end all be all political treatise on world peace; you’re writing an experiment, or a propagandistic argument, in the current era.

Read Political Non-Fiction:

Honestly, this is a no-brainer. If you just make up your novel’s end all be all political argument, that’s cool. I don’t have to respect it, since it’s likely so off the mark, and not rooted in reality or history’s own extensive arguments, snipes, and personal screeds. Read The Prince; the Book of Five Rings; Journey to the West; Romance of the Three Kingdoms; The Book of the Heavenly Cow; even read the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Despite what people might tell you, polemicists and philosophers were as petty, ignorant, and egoistic as modern-day Twitter political preachers of any creed. Even with our fancy gizmos and instant psionic messaging devices, at the core, we’ve only gotten better at repressing our lizard brain tendencies.

If you understand the past, you can foresee possible futures, or whatever the Oracle of Delphi saw in her mushroom fueled visions. True story.

Emotions are the Driving Force of Politics:

People are not logical. Greek heroines die because their love interests are perpetual man-children protected by their divine daddies; Buddhist warrior-monks want to murder Sengoku Jidai warlords because they threaten their political power; the Mongols tolerate your religion so long as you pay homage to Genghis Kahn.

Trying to use logic is like trying to convince the Iceman, Richard Kuklisinki, not to kill some poor bastard for a quick buck: good luck.

This is where efficient political tragedy comes into play. Trying to force characters—and their hidden agendas—in a direction that contradicts their initial character, upbringing, and world will backfire. Let them clash, let them betray, let them sacrifice; let them engage in the tragedy known as life.

Let the characters play out your political argument, rather than trying to not subtlely write the sequel to A Modest Proposal: Think of the Flayed Children. All you have to do to bring tragedy is nothing; characters have conflicting wants and ideologies, and the rest falls like a game of political dominos.

The greatest secret to writing political tragedy is to let go, allowing them all to fall down. You won’t weep over the philosophy, you’ll weep over the character and how they couldn’t walk away, negotiate, because of pride, arrogance, ignorance, or any number of flaws.

And the rest, as is always said, is history.


Allan Bishop is a worker drone in the financial world, a reviewer for Elitist Book Reviews, and a political hack in the vein of Cicero. He enjoys bacon, workouts, and long walks on lonely roads. He can be found at , where he provides sporadic musings on science fiction and fantasy.



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