Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Karen Woodward: A Story Structure In Three Acts

I didn't know I could do this on Blogger.  I found this excellent blog post and sort of...'re-blogged' it.

Karen Woodward: A Story Structure In Three Acts: I’ve just finished a string of posts on the topic of critical reading ( Writing A Critique: Reading Critically ). While I was writing...

Sunday, 4 January 2015

When Heroes are Dictators

If your fantasy story has a king or queen in charge then he/she is a dictator, no matter how nice they are.

I was watching 'The Lord of the Rings' movies recently and the happy ending of the King being crowned had me thinking.  The new King is an absolute monarch.  The cheering crowd are all the nobles of his realm and other Kings.  It came to me:  it's an unelected ruler celebrated by other unelected people.  He's good at fighting, is that enough to make him a good ruler?

When writing fiction, especially historical or fantasy fiction, don't forget absolute rulers are dictators.
They may not be tyrants, but if all the power ultimately lies in their hands they are dictators.  No checks or balances, no votes, if the King or Queen decides something then it's the law.

Power Tends to Corrupt

Back to the fantasy world of a noble warrior King fighting for his land, maybe the future of the whole world.  He is probably fighting for his right to hold overall power.  Keep that in mind.  He might be a wonderful human and those wanting to take over may be evil monsters with the most vile of intents; however, the ordinary peasants aren't going to see much benefit if he wins.  No votes, little in the way of human rights and of course the next person in charge will be one of his family and many good people have distinctly bad off-spring.

The power brokers too will be his friends and family.  It becomes a bit of a closed shop for advancement, unless you're talent spotted and have the right friends.  Forget the glass ceiling, this is a huge stone barrier that will take blood and ruin to bring it down.

I'm a Brit and have an interest in history.  My country was ruled by headmen of warrior bands leading to kings and queens.  Their power was eroded by political expediency and usually a lot of blood, this led to a parliament (full of rich landowners) to moderate his/her excesses.  Finally parliament took control and killed the King to replace him with a new sort of King, the Lord Protector.  This kind of didn't work so, with yet another civil war brewing, we regained a King.  Role on 300 or more years and other major political upheavals and the British have a parliament and a figurehead sovereign.

Our French cousins went for full revolution and have so far had five Republics staunchly resisting the subconscious urge to have an absolute ruler.

USA after breaking from England, in the War of Independence, almost had a King. George Washington was offered the post and turned it down, he even left office by his own choice not through failure or law forcing him to go.  There are few greater challenges than turning down absolute power.  Imagine it, could you walk away?  Can't imagine it?  How about tearing up a winning lottery ticket?

When writing your stories keep that in mind, unelected rulers are dictators.  Sometimes writers get into a mess over it. In Star Wars you have Princesses, Lords, Knights and Queens.  Are they elected or not, who made them so?

Think of fairy tale princesses, see if you can find the old stories.

A princess has been brought up to know what power is, and the life and death meaning of having a royal title.  There a brutal examples in our fairy tales, diluted for our soft twenty-first century lives.  Take a look at the older versions summarised by Sarah Dobbs at  www.denofgeek.com by clicking here.  The original story writers knew the dangers of losing in the battle for power and told their stories to ordinary folk who watched their rules kill to wear the seductive crown.

When you think about the excesses of modern dictators or tyrants, don't forget the past was the same.  One of my heroines - sort of - Queen Elizabeth I, was vain, quick tempered and let her favourites be in charge of military affairs that led to defeat and embarrassment.  More importantly the lives of ordinary men were lost because the best man for the job wasn't in charge, instead it was someone good-looking and skilled in 'chatting up' the queen.  You can find out more about one of them, Robert Devereux - 2nd Earl of Essex here  and in the useful links section.

Then of course there was the Queen's father, Henry VIII of England.  By all accounts a fairly decent fellow early in is reign who became a  wife-killing womaniser.  Some blame illness, can that really account for over 70,000 executions during his rule?

What am I saying?

If you're writing about Kings and Queens, Princesses and Princes, don't forget they are the same as the politicians of today, except we get some say in who is in charge.  You have more freedom than you know.

Your hero's greatest battle may not be with the evil stalking the land or the darkness threatening to engulf all that is good, but the poison of power that can drive the most sane human mad.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

This quote comes from a 19th Century historian, Lord Acton.  Lord Acton Quotes

Useful Links

Courtiers of Elizabeth I of England
Potted History of Henry VIII of England
A list of the Five French Republics in Wikipedia
The Man Who Would Not Be King (George Washington)
Lord Acton Quotes