This election was brutal no matter which side you were on. But I believe in using everything to your advantage, so here are 5 useful takeaways for writers keeping up with the 2016 U.S. election.
1. Wrong vs Wrong Trumps Wrong vs Right
When it comes to writing engaging conflicts that suck your readers in, go for wrong vs wrong rather than wrong vs right whenever you can. That’s what made this election so difficult, so divisive. We all had to choose between two horrible choices that most of us didn’t want.
If you don’t believe me, take a moment to talk to supporters of both candidates. What you’ll find is that most people didn’t like the candidate they voted for, they were just choosing who they thought was the lesser of two evils. The least wrong option.
And it wasn’t an easy decision for voters either. They took a long time thinking about it and probably felt uncertain even after making the choice. Because choosing between two wrong options will always breed more conflict than a right and a wrong.
Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire. — Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
If you want to stump your protagonist and engage your readers by making them say, “Oh my god, what would I do in their shoes?”, give them only bad options and force them to choose between them.
2. Secondary Characters Can Make All The Difference
Look at third party voting statistics. If those same voters had voted for Clinton instead of Gary Johnson, we would be looking at a very different America right now.
In the context of story, Trump and Clinton would be protagonist and antagonist — which one is which, I’ll leave up to you — but there’s no denying that Gary Johnson would be a secondary character. Nobody knows much about him and he’s not in the heat of the conflict like a protagonist and antagonist.
Gary Johnson swung the election in a drastic direction despite his meager polling because he decided to stay in the race and people voted for him, which took away potential votes from Clinton.
Remember, if secondary characters can change the course of history in real life, they can change the course of your story. Don’t forget about them. Use them wisely.
3. Emotions > Logic/Values
Some people who voted for Trump were Bernie supporters. It seems crazy and counterintuitive since Trump and Bernie were opposites on almost every issue, yet some Bernie supporters did vote Trump. Why?
Because people, like characters, are not driven by logic — sometimes they’re not even driven by their values. They’re driven by emotion.
These Bernie supporters felt Hillary Clinton and the DNC had rigged the primaries against Bernie and they were furious. They wanted revenge. And they voted Trump. For all we know those crucial vindictive votes tipped the favor to Trump.
If your characters are realistic, they’ll rarely act logically (unless that’s part of their character) and sometimes they’ll seem to break character and become someone else. Emotions have greater influence than logic/values.
4. Everyone Acts With The Best Intentions
We can say that all Trump supporters are racist, sexist, xenophobic bullies and we can say that all Clinton supporters are criminal-condoning, bleeding-heart liberals who get offended by everything, but that doesn’t do justice to the complexity of human nature writers should strive to capture.
Because, again, if you speak to them and ask them why they voted for their candidate, you’ll learn that they thought they were doing the best with the options they had to choose between:
“What would my kids say if I voted for a bully?”
“What would my kids say if I voted for a liar?”
Of course, it’s not that simple, but none of them thought they were doing anything wrong. They all thought they were helping to steer America in a better direction.
No character — not the hero or the villain, not the side character or the side character’s mom — no character believes what they are doing is wrong. They’re either doing the right thing for the right reasons or the wrong thing for the right reasons. But always for the right reasons.
5. Backstory Matters
This is undoubtedly one of the most historic U.S. elections to ever happen, but it never would’ve happened without the current racial tensions, political division, and economic strife that’s been building in America’s culture since its conception — and even before then.
Backstory matters. It affects who were are and what we do and how we vote. Always make sure to take characters’ backstories into account when you decide what they’ll do and how they’ll act.