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Political intrigue tips

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Mon May 10, 2010 11:56 pm
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Rosendorn says...

This is just a quick little tips list for those who want the government involved in your story somehow. It comes from my experience researching politics and writing it in my novels.

1- There are only shades of gray: This is my biggest tip, so I'm putting it first. In most stories, there's a pretty clear "right" side and a pretty clear "wrong" side. Political intrigue mostly throws that out the window. Sides can include those who are self-serving but don't break the law, those who are working for the good of the public who break the law, those who don't do anything but take home a paycheque, those who try to stay clean but can often end up being weak, and those who break the law for self-serving reasons, but might still be helping in some ways.

From the list above, that shows just how many sides you have. Stick your MC between a couple of parties and they have some difficult choices to make— if they don't have their own well-defined code. Even then, they might have to break and bend, because no party truly fits with their code of morals.

The best thing to keep in mind for this tip is spending the time to create real characters. All must have blends of black and white. Which leads me to tip #2...

2- Different parties, different agendas: If you have a guy from the south, who wants to get more money for land development, and a girl from the east who wants to advance her group up the political power-lader, each will have very different goals and will clash at one point. In politics, every group and individual person has different things they want to do, and these often compete. There's feuds, bad blood, competition for government funds, the list goes on for tension-builders. Throw two conflicting goals, and the friends surrounding those goals, together, and give them a reason to fight... you'd probably never run out of plot.

Take the situation above: The guy from the south wants the money for road building. But his partner (friend, coworker, whatever) wants the money for developing farming. Conflict. Then there's the girl from the east. If she sees that the man from the south is gaining ground, she might line herself up with his cause to gain favour. Or, she might oppose it if she sees the person(s) in charge disagree with the man from the south. More conflict. Add in your own character personalities for added fun.

3- Gossip is king: Gossip is one of the most powerful weapons in politics. Every action your characters do in public, and more actions they do in private than the characters might think possible, is watched and becomes the latest bit of juicy news to spread between social circles. Reputations are formed and destroyed by words alone.

Use this gossip to your advantage. If somebody does something that even has the potential to turn into a scandal, make it at least an undercurrent for the rest of the story. The character has to watch that nothing else they do could be used to fuel that gossip and make it bigger. And remember people might start spreading half-truths about characters simple to make it they have to watch their backs.

4- No room for weaklings: Dealing with politics means having a tough skin. It also means knowing who, and what, you stand for, as well as your own goals. If your character is weak going into politics, either by force, situation or choice, then they will get strong quickly or drop out. If your character is strong already, as in they know themselves and they know what they want, then you can watch them have fun in the political landscape. More fun might be had if you make a character think they're strong, but as soon as they enter politics they discover they're not.

5- Take a snapshot, but know the big picture: When writing political intrigue, you should have an idea what the main players are involved in when it comes to the main plot, but you also need to know what your characters are into past the main plot. Take the girl from the east from before. She might have an admirer back home, or at the hub of politics, who wants her for real. Or he might want her because he wants somebody to advance his own family's/party's gains. His family might then want the power to uproot the current person(s) in power because of an old blood feud, and a cousin might be torn because he wants to aline himself with the party in power but feels loyal to his family...

All of the above is probably too big to fit in anything past an epic. Your story is only focusing on the girl from the east and her admirer (and maybe the guy from the south, for added fun). But knowing who wants what in the giant web of politics makes for a real landscape. You get more shades of gray, you get more character development, and you get a much richer story.

6- Keep lots of notes: A final tip, because in a political intrigue plot you have a lot to keep track of. Keeping notes somewhere helps you keep each character's goals and connections straight. It's also really handy when looking for a new subplot in a slow spot of the story. Remember that cousin who's torn? What if he starts admiring the girl from the east, too?

Hope these tips help! Again, this is only my own experience, but I hope it helps you with the politics in your stories. These tips are pretty cross-genre, despite my experience being in fantasy plots.

~ Rosey
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

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Mon Nov 08, 2010 3:26 am
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SaraAnne says...

This is top quality stuff.

Its all very true.
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Thu Jun 02, 2016 9:37 pm
fortis says...

This is the guide I always wanted that I never knew I needed. A+ helpfulness. Would plot against the government again.
Thanks Rosey c:
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