WWII: Not an Original Setting Anymore

I’m part of a book club at work. We enjoy getting together and discussing a book every two weeks over lunch. But, for some reason, more than half the books we read are set in WWII. All of the villains are, generally, Nazis.

This is the current book I’m working on for book club. It’s not bad, but I’m tired of WWII. Maybe if I hadn’t of read 6 other WWII related books for book club before, I’d be more into this one.

I was wondering if this was just related to the tastes of my book club – maybe they all are WWII enthusiasts or like, really hate Nazis.

But then I realized, maybe, just maybe, the reason we read so many WWII fiction books is because there are so damn many of them on the market.

When I do a search in Amazon, for example, for WWII under books, I get 20,203 results. If I narrow it down to non-history books, I still get about 5,000 books from literature, fantasy, mystery, thriller, suspense, romance, teen, etc.

I hate to say it, but guys, WWII is an unoriginal theme. Don’t make it your setting. Don’t make your bad-guys stereotypical Nazis. It’s been done. It’s been done so many times. How many times? 20,203 overall, or, if you just want to go into the fiction realm, at least over 5,000 recently.

This was the first WWII-setting book I read for book club. It heavily made use of the Nazis as the bad guy and even had one with a weird blood fetish. Like, super weird.

To compare, when I type in “WWI,” I get 5,354 results including all of the history books. Does that mean WWI is a better setting for your book or story? No, it just means there isn’t as much saturation in the WWI market for stories as there has been in the WWII market.

Let’s be honest here, reader: Nazis are super easy targets. They are inherently wrong and bad. No one is going to write a best-selling novel that defends Nazis or says that eugenics is awesome, because that’d be pretty dang crazy. Nazis are the easy enemy, which is why I think so many people go straight to WWII as a setting for their novels. When you want evil, boom: Nazis.

You don’t want to be that writer. Be the writer that comes up with nuanced characters. Who says the world has to be black and white? Why does your book have to have good and evil? Nazis are an easy evil.

This was the book we read last time, also set in WWII, this time in the Channel Islands. It was a nice change of scenery, I guess, but this was probably my least favorite of the bunch. The “Britishness” of the characters was not handled very well. What they did get right is that not all the Nazis were super evil – many were just following orders and wanted to go home.

They also symbolize what happens when the masses fall under a charismatic evil and do great wrongs. Many people in Germany knew what was happening was wrong, but fear, or outright suppression, kept them from acting. But Nazis aren’t always used in this symbolic way in these novels, at least not the one’s I’ve read.

No, they are used to just represent evil. We can do better than that, dear reader, in your works. Be nuanced. It’s much harder to write a character that does evil accidentally, or when trying to do the greater good, than it is to write a character who is following orders of a charismatic madman.

Besides, the greatest literary villains in history: Iago from The Tragedy of Othello, Satan from Paradise Lost, or even Voldemort from Harry Potter weren’t Nazis. No, they were dark alright and twisted, and their logic wasn’t always sounds or the same logic you and I would have, but they had a drive and desire.

So make your villains real and make them pop. WWII and Nazis are overdone, so please, just don’t go there. And, my dear book club friends, can we put a ban of WWII books for a while?

Amanda Riggle

Amanda Riggle

Amanda is the Managing Editor at The Poetics Project and of The Socialist, the national magazine of The Socialist Party USA, as well as the Lead Editor of Pomona Valley Review's upcoming 11th issue. She graduated with a BA in English Education and a minor in Political Science. She is currently enrolled in an English MA program with an emphasis in Literature. During her free time, Amanda enjoys writing poetry, reading, traveling, crocheting, watching entire seasons of campy shows on Netflix, and, of course, writing blogs.
Amanda Riggle

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