The Fate of “Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar” rests with YOU!

For each Trudge-Along Tuesday, I plan to show you what I did to advance my writing goals. Ideally, I present something concrete each week, like a new chapter for my novel. But throughout the past few days, my unconscious mind took over my musings on a problem. I wanted to say I finished Amal’s character sheet today. Until I solve this current conundrum, I can’t develop much else.

You readers of Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar will note that the first chapter throws you into its own world. An America like ours right now, but with different celebrities, politicians, and memes. This setting, according to my peer reviewers, is bewildering. I’ve got four options ahead of me on how to redesign the world of Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar. One of them (in the table below) should make the novel’s aims clearer.
Option 1 Politicians not based on real life Memes not based on real life
Option 2 Politicians based on real life Memes not based on real life
Option 3 Politicians not based on real life Memes based on real life
Option 4 Politicians based on real life Memes based on real life
Here are the strengths and weaknesses for each option.
1. The novel uses entirely new politicians and memes
This is the approach I wrote the first two chapters with… for the most part. I still namedrop memes like “Trollface” and companies like “Happy Madison.” So this world’s not 100% made up…  maybe it should be. If I invent all the politicians, memes, companies, and groups appearing in Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar, then I’ll have total control over the story’s direction. However, it does mean that in Chapter 1, I have to explain enough for the story to continue unhindered. Perhaps it’s an alternate version where Clinton won the 2016 presidential election? At any rate, this option requires a primer for each new character and new social trend. I’ll have to establish right away, “This is not the Earth you’re used to, so don’t bother googling anything.” Hard to get a plot rolling if you reinvent the wheel.
2. The novel uses real-life politicians, but made-up memes.
The riskiest of the options. If I’m talking about a hypothetical 2020, I must state a prediction on what happens to most political figures in 3 years. I also need to do this without getting sued. Also, for the current draft: the entire novel hinges on the Donald Trump analogue resigning before 2020. I don’t think our president will last his full term… but I also didn’t think he’d achieve office to begin with.
Due to the novel’s comedic nature, there’s an easy out to this. I can have some event result in our current representatives leaving the political scene, like a freak earthquake or a virus or a conspiracy. Similar to Watchmen, a what-if scenario provides a look at what could happen but won’t happen. This “cataclysm” excuse essentially lets me have option 2 combined with either #1 or #3. I’d still have to figure out how new characters’ pasts fit in with this alternate continuity. If politicians in the novel are the same as the ones on C-SPAN , then I can only create non-famous people for the story.
3. The novel uses real-life memes, but made-up politicians
I’m leaning towards this option, though it does have its problems. Ideally, I’d establish at the beginning “If it has a first and last name, then it’s an expy.” But that’s not the problem… the problem (for all these) is how do I convey this. Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar wrestles with the idea that political satire is dead in the era of Trump. I can’t assume that the novel’s world is politics-as-usual, like in House of Cards. Would starting off this story with a discussion of alternate universes be too on-the-nose? Maybe the narrator adds a disclaimer at the beginning, saying that he changed names. But then people will start hunting for who’s supposed to be who. Maybe I could change the setting to 2024. Or even 2016, further establishing that this is a new world and not a realistic glimpse into the future. This option depends on this thesis: “The people in power don’t change, only their names do.” As attractive as option #3 seems, it’s not any less confusing than the others.
4. The novel uses real-life politicians and memes
The simplest solution, but not the easiest to work around. Either I do a bunch of research and try to guess what happens in four years… or I somehow how tell people that this isn’t a prediction of the country’s future. Which they’ll assume anyways.
Here’s the ultimate problem with all four solutions. Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar isn’t a story about our political future. The politics are essential to what I’m trying to tell, of course. Yet when you get right down to it, the friendship between Henry and Amal matters more than who wins this imaginary election. Time will date this novel fast… but if I’m betting on it lasting for a while, then going with option 4 essentially states “Double or nothing.”
Read Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar, or at least read it until you feel the urge to google something. Then, choose from the poll which option you think I should go with. Feel free to comment if you have a different idea. I appreciate everyone who leaves a simple “like” on my blog posts. For this one, though, I’ll need you all to speak up.

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