This week: Political DramaEdited by: Kittiara
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Politics is a big part of our lives. Indeed, it is pretty much impossible to escape it. Why, then, not incorporate it into your writing?
This week's Drama Newsletter is all about the political, and why it works well in drama stories.
Have you ever felt sorry for an unlikeable character? Have you ever wanted them to have a happy ending? I have. The clearest example to come to mind is the character of Sam Cayhall, in The Chamber by John Grisham.
Sam is a racist, and a former Klansman. He is on death row. He is not a nice man, and he was an accomplice in the crime he ended up in prison for. The problem is that he did not carry out the act that he was found guilty of, and he did not know that that act would cause harm to other people. If he were to share what had actually happened, and give up the name of the person who did it, his life might be spared. He won't. He can't. Not even when his estranged grandson, who is a lawyer, is desperately trying to uncover the truth and save him.
John Grisham has written some excellent legal dramas, and The Chamber is amongst my favourites. Another favourite of mine is The Brethren, which enters the field of politics and especially the ever-powerful politics of fear.
Many of us wouldn't be able to write legal drama, because of the knowledge required to make our work convincing. If you don't have that knowledge and insight, you risk lawyers reading your work and shaking their heads in despair, which would be somewhat embarrassing for everyone involved. Politics, however, is more accessible. It affects our everyday lives. In order to make sense of politics some knowledge of the law is helpful, as is knowledge of the political structure and system of your country, but you don't need to have studied the field for years on end. As a voter, you should already be reasonably informed.
We live in a world in which politics can lift people up, and destroy them. Soldiers are sent into wars, whilst those with the power to save them no longer lead the charge; they may even be in a different country. Some people are denied treatment for their illnesses. Some are left without a safety net. Many people work hard, yet don't earn enough money to pay their bills. All of them have been affected by politics and feel its impact, and there is no escape. It doesn't matter if you are wealthy and own mansions around the globe, or are a poor person, seeking shelter in a doorway. You could live in a functional democracy or be subject to a totalitarian regime. Unless you somehow find a way to get lost in the jungle, or build an igloo on the North Pole, your life will, to some extent, be controlled by others. And even then, with satellites mapping the planet and the eternal struggle for natural resources, sooner or later something political will make itself known.
Are you feeling claustrophobic yet? Write about it! It's a fascinating field to explore and lends itself well to drama. Our very relationships are, in a way, decided upon by politicians – what is permitted, what isn't, sometimes for good reasons, at other times not so much. It was not until 2014 that same-sex couples were able to get married here in the UK. Politics may meddle where it shouldn't meddle, and it can take a while to catch up and make things right.
Politics is about people. The people who make the decisions, and those affected by those decisions. The politicians who want to help, and those in pursuit of their own interests. The big players behind the scenes. The judges tasked with interpreting the law. International tensions and agreements. The questions of power – who should have it, who shouldn't, what ought to be done with it, and what should be its limitations. Whichever way you look at it, people are always at the core of these questions. I sometimes think that politics is inbuilt, because people seem to need leaders. Unfortunately, those willing to lead are not always those who are the most able…
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