I’ve written a couple of blog posts about what writers can learn from the current political campaigns. A piece in the October 31st issue of The New Yorker takes a different approach.
Thomas Mallon is a novelist, essayist, and critic whose book Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years is now available in paperback. His novels usually portray politics and politicians from a POV other than the political “star.” In “Presumptive” he talks about who would be his protagonist if he were to write a novel based on 2016—and why. He makes some excellent points about what makes an effective main character.
The same issue of The New Yorker features an article by George Packer. Although he starts with an interview with Hillary Clinton, the bulk of the article is tracing the historical bases of current allegiances to the Republican and Democratic parties. He’s thorough and scholarly but highly readable. Read it with a view to what makes compelling nonfiction.
Whether you lean toward fiction or nonfiction, the principles of a good story are the same: you need a compelling what (in the form of a character and/or event) and a believable why (the motivation or circumstances that molds the outcome).
Continuing the election-related focus, I recommend Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America. It might just as well be titled “The United States and How It Got This Way.” His premise is that sub-cultures within the U.S. today can be understood in terms of who settled various parts of the continent, when, and under what circumstances. His labeling of the regions takes a bit of getting used to, but he provides a map. Overall, he has closely tied what to why in a highly readable and (for me) informative book.
FINAL TAKEAWAY: Election season is a great time to read voraciously!