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  • Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand

Everything Is Complicated

So here we sit, just a few days before the Presidential election, and it looks like it is going to be a close one. Now, this is a writing blog, not a political one, so I'm not going to weigh in on the candidates or the positions or the advertisements or any of that. No worries of ickiness on that score. But since it is likely to be a close election, I strongly suspect that some statements are going to be made about that other, you know, infamous election a few years back, Bush v. Gore, and I thought that I'd remind people of a few little-remembered (or, at least, little discussed) things about that election to illustrate something about writing. Ready? Let's play a little game of true or false about the following statements: 1. The U.S. Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 majority that the manner in which the Florida Supreme Court ordered the ballots in Florida to be re-counted was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. False. The Supreme Court found by a 7-2 majority that the manner of the recount was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The vote on the remedy for that violation, stopping the recount on December 13, was by a 5-4 vote. Now, you may think that I'm quibbling and that the remedy decision was the critical matter and that the vote was politically motivated, etc. Not going to get into any of that--just noting that the constitutional issue was not by a 5-4 vote like, I suspect, most people think it was. (Bush may have won the election, but there is no doubt Gore won the post-election spin.) 2. If Gore had won the lawsuit, he would have won the state of Floriday and, thus, the election. False. Though a lot of people no longer remember this, a consortium of news organizations arranged to conduct a recount of the Florida ballots after the election, applying a number of scenarios. If Gore had gotten the recount he was asking for (limited to Democratic leaning counties), he still would have lost. If the entire state of Florida had been recounted per the Florida Supreme Court methodology, Bush still would have won. Lest you think this is the partisan ramblings of Stephen Colbert or his brother from another mother, Bill O'Reilly, let me source it to the liberal bastions The New York Times and The Washington Post. Yes, there were recount methodologies which would have resulted in a Gore win, but not the ones being pursued by Gore or the Florida Supreme Court. 3. George Bush was voted for by a minority of the U.S. voters. Absolutely True. Given the way the Electoral College works, this is not only true, but not really surprising to anyone. It's happened before. (What shocks ... shocks ... me is that there was not a bigger push to eliminate the Electoral College in the years since--especially at the height of Democratic sway after Obama's election.) Of course, what's more interesting is that other Presidents who have won both the popular vote and the Electoral College have been voted for by a minority of the U.S. voters. For example, Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 with a mere 43% of the vote, though he got 370 Electoral Votes. That's because that pesky third-party candidate, Ross Perot, got almost 19% of the vote. And, of course, don't forget that nobody (outside of Congress) voted (popular vote or Electoral College) for Ford to be Vice President or President before he began each office, in turn. He was appointed VP after a resignation and succeeded Nixon as President after a resignation. 4. The 2000 election was decided by the absolute closest Electoral College margin possible. False. The final tally was 271-266. It probably should have been 271-267, but an elector actually abstained. (Yes, not all electors are required by their jurisdictions to vote and to vote for who the majority in their state voted.) 270-268 would be the closest currently mathematically possible, but there are fallbacks (which I won't get into) in the event of no Electoral College winner. Now, the point of this is not to tout Bush over Gore or make you vote or not vote for anybody or anybody else in the current election. Heck, at this point the chances of swaying a vote in the current election by a blog is about the same as it would be to undo the 2000 election, so please don't comment or email about your candidate or your views or voter suppression or voter fraud issues in 2000 or even now. The point is that things are complicated. Politics is complicated, polling is complicated, relationships are complicated, and, in general life is complicated. Most importantly, causation is complicated. If you are going to world-build for your fiction and your characters are going to make decsions, you might want to think about reflecting some of that complication. That's what makes characters have depth and nuance and ... dare I say it ... conflict and that helps make things interesting. Sure, there are simple issues and simple decisions sometimes, but it's not the norm. (While many (including me) have decried the polarization of American politics, that polarization is not the disease, it is a sympton of over-simplification.) When everything is black or white, there is plenty of conflict, but not necessarily plenty of tension. Complexity not only will make your world and your characters more realistic, it will make them more interesting. It will generate internal and external struggle. It will heighten your dialogue. It will allow surprises to occur when things happen to your characters and when they decide to make things happen. Sure, there still needs to be a logic to the causation, but it doesn't need to be as simple as going from A to B. You can use the whole alphabet. That's what writers do. Don't oversimplify your world or your characters. And although I often advise writers to never end a story with a pun, I can't help but end with this: When everything is black or white, there can never be fifty shades of grey. And grey, that is the writer's friend. Now, take all that energy I've stirred up by talking politics (even ancient politics can rile people) and put it into your writing. Or read another one of my blogs or maybe even a book or story. I'd appreciate it. Don

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