The office of the President of the United States is arguably the most powerful, influential position in the world at this time in history. That makes whoever holds that office a pretty easy target for the authors of fiction.

But should you pluck this low-hanging fruit?

Last year, I read a dystopian book in which a fictitious US President with bad hair, a dislike for immigrants, and a narcissistic personality turns into an insane dictator. Gee…that sounds awfully like a caricature of a recent president, wouldn’t you say?

Now the book was good, and I enjoyed the story. Which is more than I can say for a book I read eight years ago that featured a fictitious black president whose message of hope and change was a false promise, and he instead installed an Islamic dictatorship. Hm, I wonder if people have accused a real president of such intentions about the time that book was written?

In case you couldn’t tell, I am sick to death of book villains being not-so-subtle caricatures of the current President.

For one, it’s just lazy. At least in my opinion. As I said above, being the most influential person in the entire world makes this an easy target. Too easy. It’s so easy it’s almost like a form of plagiarism, the greatest sin in the writing world.

You’re creating your own world, your own universe. Just create your own dastardly president, too.

And for another thing, it’s never as subtle as you think it is. You may not even want it to be subtle, but if there’s one thing I can’t stand in fiction it’s ham-fisted messages beating me about the head. No one says you can’t include a social commentary in your books. But please, don’t insult our intelligence by bludgeoning us with the commentary.

So should you use whoever’s backside currently sits in the Oval Office as the villain in your book? Well, I can’t tell you what to do. But I’d advise authors to avoid this road. It’s just predictable. There’s a tyrannical president in Her Name Was Abby, and I can assure you he is not based on the current president or any president still living. There’s no politics at all in my books; I didn’t want a political message to override my intended messages about PTSD and the ways people cope with trauma.

What do you think? Do you use real presidents, or enjoy seeing them in the books you read? Let me know in the comments!

Published by Peter Martuneac

Marine, Boilermaker, husband and father. I'm here to share my thoughts on all things political or philosophical.

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  1. I guess it depends on the kind of book it is. If someone is writing a book specifically to satirize a political figure or movement, it makes sense to do this.

    But if an author is trying to create their own world, then they should avoid it. It’s jarring when someone writing a story set in some remote sci-fi or fantasy world starts trying to make a contemporary political commentary. It takes the reader out of the story.

    That’s not to say that these kinds of books don’t have certain relevant messages. Look at LOTR, and all the ink that has been spilled on political and social interpretations of those books. And no doubt, at some level, Tolkien’s thoughts about the world he lived in found their way into his works. But he never set out to try to make a commentary; he was just telling a good story.

    In summary, unless you’re writing a book with the intent of mocking some contemporary politician and nothing else, it’s probably best not to do this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I 100% agree with you here, Mr. Gambrel! I should have specified that spoofing a president makes sense if you’re writing satire.

      Jarring is a good word. You’re trying to get lost in a fictional world, sometimes in another galaxy or in another timeline on Earth, and suddenly you’re reading what could pass as an NPR segment on the current president.

      And yeah, I made sure to mention that it’s not BAD to have a commentary on current events or politics, I just prefer not having it shoved in my face. In Middle-Earth you see, for one example, agrarian traditions rising up against modern Industrialization, but it’s sufficiently cloaked in the magic of ancient trees battling a cruel wizard. It would have been a little heavy handed to have Aragorn go on a long spiel about the perils of deforestation, but coming from a talking tree, hey that just makes sense that he’s a little upset about these new machines!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In my “current” (and by current I mean “when I ever get back around to writing again”) work, I use Andrew Jackson as the inspiration for not one, but two of the main characters. I chose to do this because there are usually two negative historical interpretations of him: a hotheaded madman who goes with his gut and gets incredibly lucky, or a cold-blooded killer who got to the top on a pile of bodies. These negative interpretations still agree with the positive ones on his intrinsic charisma and intense passion, but it’s so wild to see the ways people take his (comparatively sparse) writings. As a result, I decided to explore this by making a father-son duo where the father is hotheaded and lucky, but the son is coldly methodical. It’s also a bit of a fantasy-alternate-history, sooooo that further adds to the crazy.

    Is it good? Probably not. Ultimately, though, I think it’s a fantastic story because I’ve enjoyed writing it.

    As far as including a “real” president? I think it helps that the setting is 1820’s rather than 2020’s. I think anything modern lends itself to inserting politics into a story that doesn’t need them. It worked for things like, say, “The West Wing” because it was about modern politics. It works for things in which it is a central point. Otherwise, it’s like just seeing a diatribe come from out of nowhere. You’re just so right in all of this article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really cool idea though, splitting the interpretations into two characters! Yeah if you reach back two hundred years into history I don’t think it’s really an issue then. Can’t think of too many folks who passionately support or oppose politicians from two centuries ago. But if you’re basing it off a president in living memory, that’s when it starts to bug me because there’s ALWAYS an agenda attached.


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