Politics For Dummies…err, Writers

Look, my contempt for a certain ex-President has been pretty open on these…err…”pages” over the last few weeks.  This post is not about that.  What it is about — tangentially, at least — is naked politics and power.  More importantly, it is an attempt to touch on how those things can be, and have been, used in the creation of fiction.

I am a political nerd in many ways.  If those ways are mostly historical, they still can and will color my perceptions of politics today.  Which is as it should be.  What happened before will always color what happens now.  Anyone out there who believes Irish animosity and resentment toward the English did not have an impact on the bitter, contentious negotiations about Brexit needs to revisit the repressive brutality of the English occupation that officially ended only a century ago.

Hell, even after 160 years, many in the US are still verbally and morally fighting the Civil War.

The trouble with being a historian is that the list of causality never ends.  Everything that happens now was influenced by something that came before, which was influenced by something that came before that, and something that came before that…on and on ad infinitum.

Want to put January 6th in perspective?  I would love to point back to Caesar — facing trial and ruin both politically and financially — and the Rubicon, but if I do that I then have to go back and talk about Sulla first marching a legion into the Forum…and then back to Marius and Saturninus, which leads inevitably back to the Brothers Gracchi…

I think also about the import and impact of events and personalities from other periods and nations.  Events surrounding guys like Edward VIII, Cromwell, James II, Richard II (my favorite Trump comparison) sit right alongside my Roman “causes” for the current zaniness.

Then I could go all Japanese and talk about Nobunaga and Akechi, Toyotomi and Tokugawa.  I would then, of course, have to go all the way back to the Heian period, and the rise of the Shogunate…

See my historical problem?

Okay, so none of what I hinted at above would be interesting to read in terms of modern politics.  The socio-political absurdities currently going on in the US are more than enough for most folks.  No, where all of that background thinking becomes interesting is in the boundless fun only we fiction writers get to truly have: world-building.

If you’re writing an intimate, tightly-focused love story, you can probably skip the political shenanigans. But if you are — like me — writing sci-fi and fantasy, do yourself a favor and build some Machiavellian scheming into your world.  Hell, I spent several weeks sketching out the politics and high-level ruthlessness for a story about poor and desperate kids whose awareness of politics resembles that of overly caffeinated squirrels.  That background work has paid off, by the way, as I transition that story from just a stand-alone to a trilogy.  The first story remains closely personal to the characters, but the following two grow the plot and conflict into the larger “world.”

Does your fantasy knight-errant need to know Thing One about the royal councilors who are the true power behind the throne?  Nope, not a bit.  But what if that same knight-errant picks up a spouse — or an enemy — with ties to that council?  Then you can grow your story from slaying monsters and looting dungeons for fun and profit to the needs and problems of more than just your hero.  That gives you, as the creator, another source of tension and conflict by opening for your (presumably) tough and capable hero a venue where he has nothing but disadvantages…

When I think about ideas for plots and stories, all of those thoughts about history and politics I mentioned above are at play in my mind.  Those thoughts, and how I develop them in terms of world-building, provide depth and shape to the final form of any story I develop.  Honestly, I don’t think it is possible (for me, at least) to actually understand and set-up a story unless you know why and how things are the way they are when you type that first sentence…

Oh, and, if you think all of the shit from the last year ain’t currently influencing the stories, you need to go back to Writers’ School!

Random After-Thoughts:

1)  I’m as sick of the cold as I am of COVID.  Can Spring just come, please?

2)  I just read that Rush Limbaugh died.  Now, whether you loved or hated the guy, let the dead rest in peace for at least a little while.  I was pissed at Trump for his vicious attacks on McCain after the latter’s death, and I am just as pissed at the attacks on Limbaugh so soon after his passing.  When is it “too soon” to criticize the dead?  To paraphrase the old definition of pornography: “I can’t define too-soon, but I sure know it when I see it…”

3)  A year ago — a year! — I posted that I need to travel in the worst way.  That obviously did not happen in 2020, and it doesn’t look like 2021 is gonna happen either.  *extensive cursing snipped*  Get me out of this fucking place!  I don’t care if it is two weeks in a damned Chinese prison camp, I need the inspiration and rejuvenation that comes with traveling!  Ahem.

4)  I got so bored, trapped at home this winter, that I started to learn charcuterie.  Anyone want some cured lamb loin?  Take it from me, it goes very well with a nice winter ale…

{Musical Note — goin’ old school because…well…I feel like it!}

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