Deepening Social and Political Conflict in your Fiction
In many speculative fiction works, war or civil unrest is common. Sometimes a given. And yet so often, these grand, world-shattering wars are shallow when looked at straight-on. If you think about the history of the conflict or the spark that sent the nations to war, you can come up kind of dry. A lot of readers are tired of “WAR” being the default backdrop of a story, especially when it’s used as a prop rather than handled with the care it should be.
So how do you make sure that your social and political conflicts don’t just provide a canvas to your story, but help deepen and strengthen the world and the characters therein? Simple! Just do a little thinking!
- What are they fighting over?
- Political or social ideologies
- Freedom (revolution)
- Who is the root of the conflict between?
- Nation & Nation
- Government & People
- Two factions of people
- Parts of the same government
- Government & Church/Religious group
- Church & People
- Government & Private institution
- Or does it span numerous groups?
- How has it spread?
- How long has this conflict been going on?
- What was the origin point of this disagreement?
- How quickly have things escalated?
- How has magic or technology figured into the conflict as it is and as it’s developed?
- What has motivated the continuation of this fighting?
- What level of devastation have the people dealt with?
- What is the military structure of the two sides?
- What event triggered the initial conflict? The war (if they’re two separate things)?
- Do the people remember what started the war, or has too much time passed?
- How has the constant presence of war altered the society and culture?
- How much fear is present in the day-to-day life of the citizens?
- How do parents handle the knowledge that their children will undoubtedly go off to war at X age?
- How has the family structure changed with the constant absence of soldiers?
- Does lineage play any part in how likely a child is to be recruited or what level they start at?
- How hardened have people come to war and death?
- When does soldier training start for children? Is there a gender divide on who fights and who doesn’t? How is “fitness” determined for combat?
- Has there been any tries at peace between the warring factions? How were they handled? Why did they fail?
- Have art, literature, music etc. survived the enduring war? How has the umbrella of unrest affected the arts?
- What do the people believe this war is trying to accomplish? Or do they accept it as a part of life that will likely never go away?
- How do people cope with the upheaval of their lives?
- How are soldiers selected and trained?
- How informed are the general citizens?
- How in-danger are the non-combatant people?
- Are emotions running rampant, or are they in check? Or is ignorance bliss for most people?
- How quickly did the inciting incident lead to the full-on war?
- How well- or ill-tempered are the leaders of the sides and how does that contribute to the way the delegations, exchanges, and treaties are handled?
- Are the people of the general public on board with going to war, or are they angry about their leaders’ involvement?
- How well-documented and reported are the goings-on at the front lines/in governmental offices?
- Why are the people unhappy or unsettled?
- What groups are trying to resolve the issues or help the needy during the fragile times?
- What are the opposing sides/ideas trying to accomplish and how are they balanced over discontentment rather than heading straight to war?
- How much pressure is there to start an uprising?
- Has the disagreement between some groups brought unity to others?
- Is the unrest more mental and political, or are there mobs rioting in the streets?
- Are there rumors (true or not) circulating that are adding to the tension?
- Is there a press involved? How are their reportings affecting the people? How are they viewed by the ones in power?
- How long has this unrest been present? Do people think that it will eventually lead to a revolution or war…or are they just resigned to the way things are?
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