Conservative Fiction Plot Tropes, or Need Some Ideas?

Like every other kind of fiction, conservative fiction is already developing certain common tropes. If you’re having trouble recognizing what conservative fiction is OR if you are groping for a great story idea, try playing around with some of these. You’re welcome to add more tropes in the comments.

Environmentalism versus science. In Poul Anderson’s classic Orion Shall Rise, a post-nuclear war world government has outlawed all forms of energy and technology that are not “green”. Anderson first published this in 1983, but the idea of environmentalists outlawing technology advanced enough to get to the stars may be more timely now than it was then.

Capitalism versus socialism. The classic Orwell novel 1984 was themed around totalitarianism, and was so impactful as to add “orwellian” to the dictionary for totalitarian actions like censorship and (another one) memory-holing. When writing about doublespeak (huh, yet another) in your novel, you’re using Orwellian concepts.

But that’s neither capitalist nor socialist, even though both sides equate the other with totalitarianism. Small-scale capitalism tends to be libertarian, AND so does small-scale socialism (as with hippie communes and Israeli kibbitzim.) Only on large scales does either benefit from totalitarianism, which requires a high level of jack-booted thuggism and minute control over people in order to function properly.

If you’re doing C v S, dig deeper. Use the psychological magic of your story to examine how BOTH systems benefit from totalitarianism and libertarianism, and how BOTH can be conservative or progressive. No one can outdo Orwell on totalitarianism, but good conservative and conservatarian writers can ask the right questions in their stories to do a great job of exploring how capitalism and socialism influence different story scenarios.

A great fiction book about capitalism, not a permutation on an Orwellian theme, is Garet Garrett’s “The Driver”, which followed the rise of a businessman not unlike Donald Trump in many ways. Garrett, a journalist who was well-known in his day, wrote several books of fiction and nonfiction and was one of the most prominent opponents of the New Deal. If you compare his fiction with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s several books on businessmen of the same time, you will find a number of pertinent and interesting differences, the most notable of which is Garrett’s tendency to praise capitalism while Fitzgerald condemns it – or at least its princes. Horatio Algiers’ somewhat dated books and Ayn Rand’s fiction are also good idea sources.

Mises Institute’s website has a number of Garrett’s hard-to-find books in PDF form for free.

The clash of the sexes, with varying permutations and outcomes. An enormous difference between contemporary mainstream fiction and conservative fiction in dealing with this topic is that in conservative fiction, the writer actually respects masculinity and the men who possess it. However, even conservative fiction tends to be uncomfortable in any M/F relationship that is not romantic or sexual.

Oh, I could say SO much about this topic, but I’ll just hit some high points both in how liberals address the issue and in how Conservative writers could address it. For the most part, only romance fiction and some women’s fiction even try to address this topic in any developed fashion. Note: I’m using some romance fiction industry terms here, but I think they are pretty self- explanatory.

○ The earliest book I recollect that used the Magical Vagina to school the Patriarchal Jerk in the gentle arts of social justice was Middlemarch by George Eliot, back in the middle Victorian era.

○ Most classic romances post-bodice ripper period treat men as actual Equals to women, not the Evil Other or the rapist-to-be-reformed. However, after only a short period they started being Woke, and not in a good way.

○ Contemporary romance is edging ever closer to treating men as the Evil Other, unless he is Woke – that is to say, a beta male. Historical romance is better, but in both cases the Woke Alpha Hero is becoming less and less believable as a realistic human being.

○ Few books outside of romance seem to understand how to treat an actual equitable male/female relationship, particularly a friendship. There is always an edge to it. Male writers often write lesbian female characters when they need a male friendship with a woman that can’t be a romance. Female writers kinda don’t address it; men are treated as The Other, for the most part, or as a beta, or as a potential love interest (in The Hunger Games, for instance, any male character that befriended the female lead was in love with her.)

However, a really great M/F non sexual relationship exists in at least one prominent franchise. Natasha Romanov, Black Widow in the Avengers movie and comics, is very good friends with Hawkeye (and his family) and Captain America. While at first it seemed that there was some sexual tension – nope. Want to spoke the idiotic war of the sexes? Write more stories like that.

The Good President. Meh. This trope comes off as SOOO preachy, just like it did in the leftist “West Wing” TV series. It CAN be done, and I’d look to Garrett’s books referenced above as well as political fiction, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan books, and other conservative political fiction for templates, but unless you have a very good insider’s understanding about how Washington political sausage is made, it’s probably not going to be good.

The misguided SJW. Done well, this is a lot of fun. I have one right now in progress – the villain is a trust fund-rich SJW who wants to Save The Alaskan Wolf, and will literally do anything in support of that goal. Humans mean less to her than this often-problematic canine that is sometimes legally hunted from helicopters, and for good reasons.

Essentially, what you’re looking for is an SJW with a mission: to heal the earth, stop global warming, save the whales, stop police abuse of minorities, eliminate poverty, stop fracking, stop ANWR drilling – you get the idea. Whether that goal is achievable is secondary to the SJW having a mission. In fact, the SJW can even have the same mission a Conservative might agree with. The really important thing is that the SJW go about attaining his goal using ass-backward means. Bomb the pipeline, shoot the cops, cast a spell empowering the whales to fight back with laser beams, whatever. (It’s funny how SJWs forget about that whole nonviolent thing when engaging in their pet causes.)

The fun part is showing your pragmatic conservative hero fighting back against the SJW WHILE FOLLOWING THE RULES. In other words, a thorough rejection of the SJW idea that the ends justify the means. Or, put another way, we can beat you with half our brains tied behind our backs.

That conflict should form the basis for the central plot.

History repeats itself. In this trope, conservative Cassandras, like Jeff Goldblum’s character in Independence Day, warn about dire consequences of things happening “just like they did in 19xx.” It can focus on Stalinism, the various idiocies that led to the tragedy of World Wars I and II, or even things like slavery, the Salem Witch Trials, or Hannibal’s invasion of Rome. Handled with care, this can be a good subplot, but books that are All About Prediction tend to come off as preachy – and you will wind up preaching only to the choir (The science fiction movie Independence Day was saved from a preachy-fail by being a whole lot of fun.) Often, prepper fiction (see Apocalypse below) finds itself in this category, but their saving grace is that a big part of prepper fiction is the prepping-for-survival part, which is actually educational. Still does not make for deathless prose.

The developing Antichrist-like charismatic politician. This one, unfortunately, has been overdone, or at least all the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. Unless you have a truly unique take on this trope, it’s probably better to avoid it.

The mysterious-ish Apocalypse. Also known (to me) as prepper fanfic (please don’t get offended, Prepper Writers, it’s not meant in a negative way – just an easy way to remember it!) this sort of story bolsters the idea of prepping and preparedness by fictionally rehearsing what would happen if nuclear bombs were dropped on America, if there was a sudden (or not-so-sudden) Islamic invasion, or if government incompetence finally caught up with us. I’ve even seen a pretty good one centered around the national debt finally causing a massive crash, with the United States being plunged into a horrifying depression to end all depressions. These may focus on dystopias or the reformation of a world order hundreds of years in the future, but generally they are closer in time to today.

One I’d love to see: The Handmaid’s Tale done from the perspective of a young SJW feminist in a United States or other Western nation that has been taken over by Islamic – not Christian – fundamentalists. That would just be a ball to read, and certainly more plausible than Atwood’s feminist Jeremiad. Certainly it would put the blame for women’s oppression on a much more sensible target: culturally embedded Muslim misogyny.

There are, I’m certain, many others, and these are just some ideas from the top of my head, but even this collection allows for some fun story concepts. Mix and match them. One of my WIPs blends two, and I’ve seen three or four of them mixed together to create some genuinely fresh and original stories. Even one of these at the center of a story, however, will feel fresh because these are not the stories the liberal publishing industry is telling.

One thing to remember: if you’re going to start from a conservative fiction angle, you should aim for the idea that would most piss off your most liberal friend, and continue in that direction. When you’re catching all kinds of flak, you are most likely over the correct target.

Conservative Writing: Keeping It Positive

It’s very hard, as a conservative writer, to refrain from negativity. We are, frankly, angry. We conservatives have come into our own, electing a president who seems to actually have the potential to make changes we want – and our own party blocks him. We are under concerted and often violent attack if we conservative writers exercise our one real power: our voices.

Over and over, I see conservatives using that great power in futility: to slay our enemies in effigy within our fiction, to show them receiving their just desserts, to expose them as the pathetic and weak figures they are. That’s fine in small doses – Roy Griffis’s Lonesome George books speculate on what famous liberals would be if they were mugged by reality, for instance, and show them learning why their thinking has been wrong all along.

The problem is, though, we often focus on that negativity toward liberals and ignore the great positive elements conservatism is built around. I have yet to see a great conservative novel focused around our contributions to abolition, for instance, or our contributions to grassroots-drive civil rights. There has been no novel about conservative American values battling the horrific excesses of the Progressive eugenics movement during the years between the World Wars, or how those excesses led to both the Great Depression and the development of the socialist New Deal, later expanded in another time of Progressive energy into Johnson’s Great Society.

Novelists are uniquely situated to highlight our conservative strengths and ideals. In my own work in progress, The Joneses, I use the oppressive weight of a small neighborhood homeowner’s association to allegorize how our own freedoms are being taken from us by an over-powerful federal government we cannot escape. I also use business and political corruption in a small town to show that the activities liberals have commonly described as capitalist crimes are, in fact, a form of liberal fascism antithetical to the growth and freedom treasured by conservatives.

And I do it using characters who genuinely strive to be good people in a tough world, characters who attend church and teach their children common sense and when to fight back. Characters most conservatives would embrace as their kind of heroes.

Contrast that to using a cardboard Bruce Willis tough-guy hero who fights blatantly evil liberals in bloody gun fights, or who destroys Islamic terrorists like a kitten discovering toilet paper. Sure, they feel good. But are they really saying what you want to say? Are they constructive in promoting your ideals, or just lots of brutal fun?

That does not mean you can’t use some of your writing as catharsis. Just every so often remember to focus on characters you admire because of who they are deep inside. If you aspire to write serious fiction, be aware that the more negativity you use in conservative fiction, the closer you are to writing pulp.

As a quick exercise, look at the hero of your current work in progress. Is he there to kick bad-guy ass, or is he there to teach what conservatism is? Does she bathe in her enemy’s blood, or is she protecting children caught up in an abusive social work system? Are you providing conservative solutions, or cathartically destroying terrorists and liberals?

One way tears down. The other way builds up. Which perspective would you prefer to write from?

Creating a Conservative Fiction Story the RIGHT Way

I read a lot of conservative fiction – classic genres like short and long stories, poetry (yep, there is conservative poetry), a few plays, novels, true stories and wildly imaginative ones. And I read in all the modern genres from the gooshiest romance to the hardest of SF. I follow that up with assiduous television and movie consumption. I do this partly because I am of ecumenical taste in stories, and partly because I am trying to figure out this conservative fiction thing.

For a contrast, I also read a lot of politically liberal fiction – same genres, same reasons. This is in general not my reading of preference, but you must experience the dark to appreciate the light.

In this pursuit, I have read good books, average books, and abominations that should be killed with fire and buried in concrete. The good ones, in every classic and modern genre, on both political sides, have one thing in common: the author has drawn his politics primarily from theme and character, and to a lesser extent from plot and milieu. (Educated writers will recognize these as the four primary building blocks of story.)

Some examples: Captain America, in his most recent movie incarnation, draws his conservatism from character, quite literally. He started out as a scrawny guy full of heart and courage who is given a body and a more-than-a-symbol shield allowing him to show us all who he really is. He’s inspiring – and exemplifies conservative ideals. His frenemy Iron Man is the ultimate entrepreneur, despite the flaws and fears that often have him seeking out limitations eagerly offered by liberal politicians and the women in his life.

Robert Bidinotto’s novel Bad Deeds features Dylan Hunter, a tough guy for hire, taking on environmental terrorism funded by corrupt government figures in cahoots with big business, a perfect example of nascent fascism. His employer: a small, upstart fracking company that just wants to be left alone. Bidinotto does the best job I ever saw of smoothly and gently explaining how fracking really works. Oh, and the book’s theme: the little guy fighting government corruption – or drain the swamp. 

Pretty much every traditional romance novel ever – not this newfangled women’s fiction or sassy professional girl stuff. Traditional romance adheres to the HEA – the happily-ever-after ending in which the hero and heroine get married and, usually, have children. Sassy girls find themselves, but romantic heroines find the perfect man. I suspect strongly that this underlying desire for a traditional relationship underpins the fact that secure, married women vote conservative.

Roy Griffis’s The Big Bang novels are set in an America that has been violently conquered by Islamic terrorists. The nation has been divided into caliphates, civil rights replaced by sharia, and caught in the maelstrom are both revolutionary conservatives and very confused and upset liberals – including celebrities we all recognize. Griff does a lot with the material he has created, but his story is all about what the new setting does to his characters.

Similarly, retired Army Lt. Colonel Tom Kratman introduces us to a Europe that has been thoroughly Islamicized by the Muslim enemy within, the Eastern elements that in real life today are slowly forcing the birthplaces of Western culture to submit to Allah. His Caliphate shows us a Europe brought low, a civilization ended not with a Bang, but a whimper. Kratman, a lawyer who once served in Operation Enduring Freedom with the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), is a natural with his East v. West theme. (It’s FREE on Kindle right now – damn, folks, go read it!)

You can do this yourself in your fiction. Forget about the thinly-veiled ripped-from-real-life plotlines and characters. Start, instead, with conservative ideas. Perhaps your theme can be “taxes are too high for healthy growth” or “the welfare state creates hellish ghettos because it robs children, potential good citizens, of the drive to develop potential.” Avoid using political statements or judgments in these themes; keep them general, addressing problems that consume you. Then build your story and forget the theme.

Create characters who have conservative traits you admire. Don’t create a Mary Sue (the only one that works is Captain America!) Instead, build a real person you could enjoy a beer with, or who you’d trust to take care of your kids.

Create plots designed around liberal/conservative conflicts – abortion, environmentalism v. conservationism, the Second Amendment. Avoid the ones that the left has to build straw men to advance – racism, gay marriage, the glass ceiling. Let them beat up their puppets, and focus on the real issues that directly affect many of us. Draw your plot from your theme.

Optional: place your characters in milieus that ensures real danger and plot conflict. An abortion story could be placed in a neighborhood where an abortion clinic is being built next door to a Catholic or evangelical church. A farmer is forced to fight environmentalists who want to reintroduce and protect wild wolves near his sheep farm, or you could try a paranormal twist and make them werewolf environmentalists.

Then forget the politics. TELL THE STORY. The politics will take care of itself.

A Reason Humans Have Stories

My most fertile creative time is that space just between sleeping and waking, particularly if I have the residue of a dream in my head. Dreams speak to me in, perhaps, a more substantial way than most people; many of my best plots and characters and fictional visions of beauty are ripped directly from my dreams, and likewise many of my best insights.

So when I awoke this morning with a vivid dream still ripe in my head, I was unsurprised. This was a tale of heroism, of a WWII supply plane filled with doctors and nurses that had to get through to a town that desperately needed medical assistance. The pilot and a team of special forces men worked together to break through a solid line of enemy, some of them dying heroically but dreadfully. In the end, success came down to the instincts of the young flight navigator, who had a preternatural insight about where the AKAK was and when it would fire on them that night – and at exactly the right moment, he was bold enough and certain enough to tell the pilot to roll left NOW. 

Without that one critical moment, a moment that required no physical heroism but all of a man’s mental heroism, they would have all died. 

And as the plane is landing, the doctors and nurses cheering, the one lovely young nurse the navigator was secretly in love with was looking at him with her heart in her eyes, making it clear to him that when this was all over, when they had landed and done their job and she had time, the young navigator was getting the heroic reward, and pal, it was more than a kiss.

I mean, really – a kiss? You save the princess from the dragon, Mighty Hero, and you get a kiss? The land is saved, the giant killed, the three impossible tasks resolved – and all you get is a freakin’ peck on the lips?

I don’t think so. That kiss stands in for serious mind-blowing sex, that first-love sex that can be the worst possible and still be better than anything you ever did in your life. It’s “I survived” sex. The hand of the princess and half the kingdom? You, Hero, deserve that. Without your unthinking courage and willingness to sacrifice yourself, there would be no princess and no kingdom at all. And the princess’s reward? In the story, hero, it is her life and future, the stand-in for the real-life reward: your true and faithful love, forever.


Spreading the cultural idea of action-consequence, in the above case a marvelous reward, is at least one reason we have stories. Animals, so far as we can tell, don’t tell stories. They are not particularly altruistic, with the exception of a few domesticated species – primarily dogs – and certain pack animals. The altruism of a pack animal is to ensure the survival of the pack. But humans, while social, are not pack animals. They are primarily monogamous creatures, despite the protestations of alternative lifestyle advocates, that create a specific type of society: groups of mated pairs and their progeny (for more on that, read the fascinating Marriage and Civilization by William Tucker). Standard monogamous mated animal pairs, like swans or beavers, do not sacrifice for anything outside their own core family. Why should they? They aren’t going to mate with others of their species, so there is no evolutionary reason for them to risk their lives or comfort, or even share resources with potential rivals.

Humans, on the other hand, sacrifice not only for their core families, but for their entire clan, their villages, and even their worlds. They sacrifice for the good of completely unrelated humans – giving up life in war or desperate situations, giving up material goods when others are dying for lack of them. There is NO other species on Earth that does this. There is also no other species on earth that tells stories.

Stories inspire this altruism. That is their core reason for being. They touch your soul and influence you to behave a certain way, historically a heroic way. That young navigator in my dream – he would normally have had to settle for a lesser girl. I mean, he was just a young, scrawny fellow, unheroic in appearance, probably a little shy and awkward. But he saved the princess and all her friends (or, in this situation, the kingdom as symbolized by the crew) – so he got the princess. Every story like this – and there are many – inspires our young men to behave in a heroic manner, and our princesses to look at heroes as desirable. It reinforces behaviors that are highly, highly beneficial to humanity as a whole.

So I look around at the ways stories have changed in the last half-century, changes that have roots much further back, and I worry. We have gone from hero to antihero, from princess to HBO’s Girls. There isn’t even a word for many of the lead character types we have created, unlike the venerable Hero and his many companions in the Journey. I confess to loving Walter Mitty, but he is hardly a character to aspire to. Breaking Bad is brilliantly written, but it is difficult to point at anyone in the show and say, there, that is the kind of heroism I want to instill in my child. 

We need heroes, as a culture. We also need princesses. There are solid sociological reasons the traditional boy-rescues-girl story came about. And we need to start writing stories in which his courage and her desirability are central, stories that inspire young men and women to be greater than they are, stories that elevate our culture and show even the most desperately poor in spirit of us that there is more. We need less, much less, of the other stuff, the antiheroes and the omphaloskeptic narcissists, the stories without plot and the stories that end without even hope, much less success. 

Stories are the soul, in a very literal sense, of a culture. What kind of soul do we want our culture to have? And how do stories in which heroes go unrewarded or, indeed, are punished, change the soul of our culture? I think Western civilization does not currently have answers, and perhaps has not even considered the questions seriously. That lack of cultural insight leads to cultural solipsism, which trickles down to individuals and ultimately leads to anarchy. The effect is clear in contemporary storytelling (visual and written both) and art today.

If you want to write fiction that appeals to conservatives and conservatarians and many, many others, think carefully about those two questions every time you sit down to write. Your stories will be the better for it, and perhaps together we can work to drag our culture out of the flooding arroyo it finds itself in today.

Safe spaces don’t make great stories

Nanowrimo has become a popular annual online gathering spot for writers who just need a little more structure. I’ve used it myself since the second year they were online, long before they exploded into a huge place to help artists of all sorts express themselves. More recently, I was active in the pro-life forum and had started my own forum creating a haven for conservative writers, helping them hook up with other similarly minded people while expressing themselves freely and avoiding the often-hostile attitude of the writing community at large.

Throughout all this, Nano had one awesome thing going for it: you got to write whatever you wanted. It was a no-judgment zone, a place where writers could release the wild and wonderful stories they had hidden away inside them. You could share or not. The only rule was that you “won” Nano by uploading a minimum 50K manuscript. Did it have to be a novel? asked writers over the years. Could it be poetry, a collection of short stories, a work of nonfiction? Yes, yes, yes! responded this open-minded group. Anything at all. The key is simply to get you writing – to ensure you write the words down. 

This laudable freedom has suddenly shifted. Executive Director Grant Faulkner sent out a letter to the Nano email list stating, essentially, that in response to recent political events (coughTrumpcough), Nano reaffirms its commitment to open access to all wannabe writers and promises it will be a safe space. He requested ideas from the community at large for how they can better keep people safe (on this virtual platform that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the US government, but whatevs.)

Ooo-kay. In my experience, Nano has always been a reasonably safe space. The only time I ever witnessed anything I was uncomfortable with was when the pro-choice people came into the pro-life list to tell them what awful people they were. The admin handled this fairly and quickly, essentially telling the pro-choice people to butt out. Even so, the message had been sent, and the pro-life people became far more guarded and cagey about their work. My conservative friends were also cautious, both before and after this incident, because in the very liberal world of creative writing we are often bullied and made to feel uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing: that’s okay. The liberals may feel that they need safe spaces to protect themselves from all those dangerous conservative ideas. WE do not. And we can be better writers by specifically avoiding the fallacy of safe spaces, by instead seeking out dangerous ideas and challenging thinkers.

Solzhenitsyn, Anne Frank, Frederick Douglass all overcame unimaginable hardship to write masterpieces. If they had been imprisoned in the open borders of safe spaces, could they possibly have written those stories? Would they have had any reason to? Oscar Wilde and other great alternative-sexuality geniuses were harassed and imprisoned for their speech and activities. IT MADE THEIR WRITING BETTER. Bronte, Eliot, Gilman fought the stifling bigotry toward women and, often, mental illness to create resonant and beautiful stories. None of these geniuses sought out the cloister of safe spaces. Instead, they fought, using their own lives as the proving grounds that made their writing sing with rage and glory.
Stories don’t come from positions of safety. Stories are about struggle, conflict, pain, about the solutions to circumvent or tear down those barriers. They do not issue from writers who think in lockstep but rather from those who are mavericks and renegades, good and bad. We have forgotten the real reason for seeking diversity: hearing different and often opposing views makes us better people. 

As conservative artists, let’s all commit to seeking out those wonderful, brilliant stories within ourselves, to understanding and loving liberals even as we tear down the walls that prevent them from hearing us. Let’s release the fantastic conservative themes and characters that struggle to escape us, or that lie dormant waiting for fertilization. Instead of ghettoizing ourselves, let’s use the power of the internet to share our ideas and personalities freely, scorning safe spaces and taking joy in the magic of storytelling.

Let our words ring.

How About Returning to Modesty?

Young pop stars have figured out that the most extreme, bizarre behavior leads to stardom through notoriety.

Young men, finding their inflated self-images don’t match the way their peers and teachers see them, choose to go out in a blaze of glory, substituting personal infamy – and fame – for personal responsibility.

Another young man, indulged and taught to listen to himself instead of authority his whole life, betrays his oath and walks away from military responsibility, becoming a captive and pawn in an international game. Another man, indulged and praised for his entire life, trades dangerous terrorists purchased for more than fifty American lives for this single dishonorable prisoner.

Things are upside-down. American leaders and schoolchildren alike don’t seem to understand values or the importance of personal integrity. The public story becomes all about random individuals – lumping the non-starring individuals into a sort of Greek chorus, disposable and replaceable. Never mind that they could just as easily have been chosen in the lottery of public esteem.

We have gone from the “Me Generation” to the “Look At Me Generation.” A combination of factors from overly permissive parenting that regards those singleton children as “special snowflakes” to the rise of reality television, a phenomenon in which the most trite and ordinary and even unpleasant person can be a star, have driven a perfect storm of selfishness. While not every young person today regards the world as an audience for his or her special “me” show, far too many of them do.

The symptoms of the disease of selfishness are everywhere. Everyone wants to be the special one, the standout, even though the reality is that most people are ordinary inside, and this has led to an obsession with being extreme in appearance or action. Trying to be an iconoclast, unfortunately, results for most people in just being weird, not exceptional or admirable. Blend this drive with normal teenage impulsiveness, and you get a lot of young people engaging in risky behaviors or endangering others – the knockout game, dangerous selfies, sexual experimentation that goes overboard.

This has deeper consequences for the community as a whole. People who turn inward for meaning are less likely to be fully invested in their communities – selfishness becomes the norm. We end up without enough ordinary people, people with modest goals of having a home and children and love, quiet fulfilling lives. When everyone’s a special snowflake, there is no one left to keep the world running.

“Look at Me” kids make terrible soldiers, teachers, entrepreneurs, parents. They choose goals that are unattainable for their level of talent or expertise. When they aren’t successful right away, they break, self-medicating or finding other extreme ways of getting attention. They no longer understand that losing is part of the game too, that you learn more from mistakes than from doing things right. And they want far more from their communities than they are willing to give.

The odd contradiction in special-snowflakism is that, in making everything all about the self, the individual cedes power over his or her happiness to everyone else. Each snowflake must have an audience, and like a spoiled child, they’ll get that audience by being bad if they can’t get it by being good. Thuggishness becomes acceptable, pointless risk-taking becomes something to be strived for.

Instead of striving for true happiness in their lives, the Look-at-Mes are settling for a shallow sort of iconoclasm, being different on the surface from everyone else – just like everyone else. Like Fruity Pebbles, they all look different but taste exactly the same.

There’s not much we can do to redeem today’s world from special-snowflakization, other than hoping it is rejected because it has become ordinary and boring. But we can work to preventing this next generation from settling for that hollow, brittle self-satisfaction. We can tell stories featuring characters celebrating ordinariness, showing the strength and power in finding and being one’s authentic self instead of an artificial construct designed to get attention.

Look back at the classical heroes, for instance. One way of identifying the guy who’s going to kill the monster and become the kind is by the fact that he’s ordinary. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins drew from that powerful tradition. King Arthur was a fosterling of unknown parentage, and Lancelot was an orphan. Oedipus was abandoned, the million Jacks and Ivans of fairy tales were foolish or the youngest brother or weak. None were special – except through their choices and courage.

We can inoculate our children and audiences against special-snowflakism by giving them heroes like this to look up to, or heroes that go out, do special and brave things – then choose to return to an ordinary life. This once was the attraction of superheroes, the idea that Superman could be this ordinary Clark Kent guy on the outside but have the big red S underneath all his clothes. (Today’s snowflakes are the opposite, Superman on the outside but Kent on the inside.)

At the same time, we need to express that there is nothing WRONG with being unique – if it is authentic. Specialness isn’t a virtue – it is only a trait, one of many that makes a person who they are. When you settle for being different just like everyone else, you are not being courageous – you are cheating yourself of learning who you are, of seeking out and using the qualities and achievements that make you unique and ordinary at the same time.

Humility, modesty, ordinariness – these quaint old virtues have become special by dint of being rejected. It is time to rediscover and embrace them.

Political Lessons from Writing: People First

In storytelling seminar after storytelling seminar, I have heard one writing concept repeated. People come first.

  • If you want to create a series readers clamor for, create a breathing character they love and can relate to.
  • If you want your story to come to life, create a character readers make their friend.

Character-driven story has dominated plot-driven story since about the time of Jane Austen and the Romantics. What most writers don’t realize is that the people-first mentality dominates in every other field where storytelling is important: law, advertising, nonprofit fundraising, and most importantly politics.

Now you may remember we had an election not so long ago. It was kind of disastrous for conservatives, and a lot of people are wondering what went wrong. I think I know at least part of the answer.

Both sides were telling a story. In Obama’s story, the hero was Everyman, the ordinary folks of the special interest groups: the woman who could not get birth control, the young American illegal immigrant who’d been brought here as a baby and could not get citizenship, the college student who just needed a chance. In Romney’s story, the hero was, er, fiscal responsibility? Sometimes Romney? It was hard to tell. For the most part Romney was telling a plot-driven story, and those kinds of stories often do not invite sequels.

When I worked at Goodwill Industries of Kentucky, my wonderfully roguish boss and known raconteur Dick Westover taught me something terribly important about storytelling: if you want people to sympathize enough with your cause to give you money, you have to make your cause about people. You have to create engaging, real stories about real people that will make potential donors want to help them.

Say what you will about Sandra Fluke, she was a real person. There were girls who empathized with her, and who were willing to vote in a way influenced by her story. Other characters in Obama’s story included:

Obama himself, the black child of a single mother, which is today’s equivalent of the son of a poor sharecropper. Never underestimate the power of a seeming underdog, and black Americans in our national stories are always underdogs. Obama had two autobiographies, and even people who had never read them knew stories from them. This made him more real, no matter the veracity of the stories. When you’re creating myth, truth doesn’t matter.

Michelle Obama, playing the role of the virtuous wife. Also black, which has power in the American story world. She bolstered the shining image of Obama the hero, making it easy for women to put themselves in her spot and feel the same way. The way she has been treated in the press and by publicity outlets like talk shows turned her into the heroine of a romance novel, and that has power.

The Voter, as a savior of all these social programs for Americans. The sad fact is that while humans love helping other humans, they want to do it in the easiest way possible for themselves. Over and over, Obama and his campaign told the American voter that they could help other people, just by voting for Obama.

There were also villains, and generally they presented themselves serendipitiously. Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin presented themselves at perfect times with boneheaded public statements that were easily twisted to imply statements about women that were not meant. Occasional comments by Romney were slanted to imply that he did not care about the poor, making him the clueless Marie Antoinette of the piece. The desiccated political corpses of Karl Rove and George Bush (sorry, guys) were dragged from their graves and paraded through the streets again.

The media, of course, helped tell this story. They prefer the liberal genre to the conservative genre already, and it was easy for them to wax poetic about their favored story. It wasn’t evil. It was human. It was what storytellers do.

This is why I reject any idea that some of the campaign attacks were strategically organized by the campaign. Storytelling, while the finer points need to be taught and practiced, comes naturally to people. We tend to see the world in the shape of a story. When reporters were presented with facts, they naturally worked them into the story that had already been developed for Obama, and since they were partial to Obama’s story to begin with, that shape became the foundation for what they reported. Thus, Republicans became villains.

Where in Romney’s campaign was this so well-shaped? His campaign was about ideas, not characters. He was reticent in telling his story, although it was a damned good one. He did not have an autobiography. His biographies were relatively poor sellers. Republicans were more likely to purchase books bashing Obama rather than pick up a Romney book. We did not have a hero to look to and inspire us. We were only given ideas and villains. These things do not motivate people to act.

Republican candidates, from this point forward, need to craft stories for themselves. It’s not hard. Most trial lawyers learn how to do this, as do most people running any successful nonprofit fundraising campaign. Additionally, they have to not be afraid to bias that story in their own favor, to create villains that live in the imaginations of the American people. Once we had that: Reagan standing against the Red Peril, the villain Khrushchev, even Gingrich with his Contract with America. We need not just heroes, but candidates who do not shrink from being larger than life, mighty characters in their own captivating stories.

2012 proved it’s not the best man who wins. It’s the best story.

Book Review: Kyle Andrews’s Strange Fall

Kyle Andrews’s Strange Fall is a young adult paranormal book that digs significantly deeper than your average YA, especially in today’s world of Twilight and Harry Potter. The hero is a high-school age girl, Faeriwyn McKeller (usually called Winnie) whose beautiful, popular older sister died in a tragic accident; a year later, her family is drifting apart, unable to cope with the reality that Cindy is gone. Since the accident, Winnie has been drawn to death herself, rejecting her own life because she is living emotionally with one foot in her sister’s grave. Their parents Marion and Mark are equally troubled, even though one is a grief counselor and the other a paranormal investigator.

Add to this very serious, realistic core a dose of magic cast by an unbalanced megalomaniacal witch named Obell, a dead John Doe body animated by – well, something – and the sudden appearance of a strange dark force, and you have a book that could easily have gone the way of your standard young adult novel.

Except it doesn’t.

Instead, Strange Fall examines issues of loss and love and mourning in a non-self-indulgent manner. Andrews explores the rawness of mourning for a child and a sister and a friend, showing how different the experiences of each character are. The mother Marion is the rational one, keeping it together for the family (or so she thinks.) Mark becomes obsessed with the idea that his daughter Cindy has not gone on to whatever lies beyond death, but instead is trapped on Earth, needing him to protect her as he always did. Winnie acts out, as one would expect of a teen. In the short span of a night, the struggles of each character is explored thoroughly, from genesis to resolution.

There is no overt religious message in Strange Fall, but there is a God, and His mercy and justice are in the background of every page. A family that is scattered, emotionally and personally and physically, is drawn together by chance to become once again a coherent unit at the end. A being of true evil is destroyed by her own wickedness. Characters are forced to face their worst fears – and overcome them. Each character in the book is tested in some manner and, by surviving, grows. It is clear by story’s end that somehow, a pattern just beyond the world we know and understand impressed itself upon the characters, redeeming them, healing them, and helping them move on with life just as Cindy has moved on beyond it.

Andrews does a great job with some very subtle word play; you’ll miss it if you’re not paying attention. A couple of examples: Winnie’s loss of her sister becomes a genuine lost-ness in the story, as she finds herself thoroughly lost in the woods and in danger. The title refers both to the season of the book and the accident – a mysterious fall from a cliff – that led to Cindy’s death; it may also refer to the fall of each character into despair and sorrow before the redemption of this single strange evening. This verbal technique brings a peculiar feeling of cohesiveness to the story, as if the things that happened seemingly by chance were part of a grand design, as if meaning lies just beyond our comprehension. This makes sense, for does not death often feel this way? Again, with this trick Andrews impresses upon the reader that things happen by design; there is no true randomness in his story, but rather a great and incomprehensible pattern that moves in such a way we can only see the ragged edges.

This book is very suitable for teens of any age, and particularly appropriate for teenagers who are struggling to deal with death in some sense. It also stands well by itself as a work of surprising depth, making it equally appropriate for adults. I highly recommend it.

Going Galt

A very wise man once told a story to a class I taught. His father was driving and for some reason became fixated on a ditch ahead, one that was encroaching on the road. He kept watching the ditch, determined not to drive into it – and drove right into it because the ditch became all he could see.

This is a depressing day for most of us. We lost nearly every single important political race we were involved in – every race that had consumed our hearts and souls. We still control the House of Representatives, but that’s it. Each of our shining stars was tarnished and destroyed by the media and the Democrat machine. For a year, we underwent heavy assault. We were outgunned and outmanned. In the end, the liberals were able to write our stories for us. 

This should not have been possible, and it was only possible because we allowed it. We saw the ditch – the liberals hurled insults and innuendos and lies at us. More space and time were taken up to call conservatives stupid and evil than to honest discussion of issues. In the end, we drove right into the ditch they dug for us, and here we are.

Now we have to get out of the ditch, fill it in to the degree possible. And go Galt, en masse.

Conservatives Going Galt

By now everyone should be familiar with the term “going Galt.” It is, of course, from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a book of at best middling skill but remarkable philosophical vision. In a collectivist society, John Galt refuses to allow his creative powers to be used for the society and to his detriment. Instead, he arranges a strike among those people whose skills and creative abilities power a government and social order that is harmful to them.

They all quit producing and withdraw to their own compound to wait out the inevitable fall of society. This is not evil; it probably minimized the damage. Such a society will fall eventually, no matter what. Rand, a Russian immigrant, knew precisely what happened under a government that believed “from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs.” The most capable people shrug and drop out. They quit producing. Without their enormous productive capacity, the rest of society decays and falls into disorder.

In the stories of our real lives, the John Galts are, for the most part, not those at the top of companies, nor are they the ones at the bottom. They are, rather, the people in the middle. Without our middle class, our small-business creators and middle managers who do the real work, without the energetic churches and the TEA Party organizers, without the so-called bourgeoisie, both the other ends collapse.

Yet it is the middle class that is being destroyed today. The poor have more to fall back on than ever before; some estimates have the average resources of the poverty-level family calculated at around 60K per year. The wealthy are doing fine, as they usually do. But our country runs on the engine of the middle class, and they are the ones paying more in taxes and suffering from hidden inflation on basics like groceries, clothes, and gas. Meanwhile, they’re scrambling to replace lost income in order to keep from sliding down into poverty.

The middle class cannot realistically go Galt. We have families to feed. We are not prepared to go off the grid. But there are things we can do.

  • Go to church, or start attending a church if you never have. Even if you’re not Christian. A good church will give you the social structure you need for self-discipline and encouragement, and will also give you an outlet for the next piece –
  • Give only to causes you can control, and that are clearly conservative. Dump donations to United Way or to politicians who are not listening to you – and do not donate to large organizations like the RNC unless you have some direct control over what happens to your donation.
  • Stop spending money; save instead, pay off debt, and invest your cash in something that is inflation-proof.
  • If you have a small business, put money in automation, infrastructure, and marketing, not in new employees.
  • Become politically active. Make your voice heard. Tell your story.

The point is control. We cannot let control of our resources slip from our hands any further than they already have. That means we need to keep our money, our labor, our ideas, and our words for our own use. Going Galt, you see, ultimately means controlling what happens to those things that we create.

Book Review: Rodney Page’s Powers Not Delegated

Just in time for this year’s presidential election comes Rodney Page’s Powers Not Delegated, the story of a principled man who decides he must defeat the hyperliberal, poorly-performing current president in order to save America. Sound familiar? Page includes his own recognizable fictional versions of many of today’s political players – Rush Limbaugh, Barack Obama, George Soros, Rahm Emanuel – placing them within a slightly-changed version of the political landscape we are familiar with from the last four years.

Powers Not Delegated covers four years of American political life, from the election of the new and relatively unknown President Thorpe, who ran on a platform of “Change!” (and not much else), to the hotly-contested presidential election season immediately following, in which a popular congressman switches his allegiance from Republican to Page’s version of the Tea Party and gives both candidates a real challenge. Meanwhile, Thorpe’s shoddy handling of every presidential duty results in terrible economic conditions, an increasingly porous border, and the secret possession by Iran of suitcase nukes. Page’s version of our world as it stands today is chillingly well-supported by easily documented facts.

Though I still had to finish the book (it was a real page-turner in spots), I confess to some disappointment. Page’s book was a slow starter, largely because it introduced about a dozen characters in parallel plotlines at the beginning of the book. While at some point all these characters did cross paths. it was harder to follow the story this way than it would have been had they been introduced at more natural story moments in the main plot thread, with flashbacks or narrative fill-in covering necessary background information. Page also made a classic first-time-novelist mistake: he failed to go for the throat emotionally. While danger was a clear element throughout and he did not shy from killing off characters, it felt flat, as if he had not reached deeply enough. I honestly think Page would have been better off holding off publication and instead running his book through a gauntlet of unforgivingly critical (but loving) conservative readers and writers who could help him identify the flaws in his novel and give advice on how to repair them.

That said, I still recommend the book. Why? Because it’s different, and it addresses something important in the conservative fiction world. I’ve been talking for a few posts about how changing the story can change the culture. Page’s story takes the standard political potboiler and, without apology, uses it to expose some of the real-life horrors that today’s politically liberal establishment leaves us open to. Yes, not paying attention to border enforcement makes us vulnerable to the worst possible terrorist attacks. Yes, blowing off Iran’s nuclear development ignores their clear and undeniable ties to terrorism. And yes, a lack of close and balanced scrutinization of any presidential candidate’s background leaves us open to government by shadowy figures driven by their own agendas. Fiction is uniquely positioned to help us understand why we need to pay attention to these big-picture things in real life; Rodney Page does an excellent job demonstrating this in his book.

I’m very much looking forward to Mr. Page’s next book.