Politics, History, and Story

Ostrogoth camp. Politics in ancient Italy.

Politics and People: Story Conflict Root

Character and conflict are at the heart of story. These story elements are as important in historical fiction as they are in any other genre.

Characters are modeled on human beings. Because human nature is a given, as an author you have a wide spectrum of character traits to play with no matter what your genre. Put your character’s traits in opposition to a situation or a person and you create conflict.

Political Power Creates Conflict

In the Argolicus Mysteries the main character, Argolicus, may be solving a murder but the politics of the time creates complications, reversals, and roadblocks. The Ostrogoths rule Italy and Roman law prevails for Italians. Basically two rules of law one for the Ostrogoths and one for Italians.

The introduction to each story tells a story of relative international peace.

With few exceptions, the western world was at peace in the year 512 after Christ’s birth. Warlords were plotting in the Balkans either for the East or the West, but mainly for their own power. Rumblings in Persian borderlands perhaps threatened the Roman Empire as seated in Constantinople. The most recent disturbances—betrayals, if you will—of the Frankish kingdoms had been settled some five years. Bishops and clergy squabbled over textual interpretations of the Gospel, patristic writings, or Patriarchal proclamations, as usual, some in a huff, others with conciliatory leanings. Vandals had controlled northern Africa for almost 100 years. The Visigoths ruled Spain and traded with avarice. In Italy affairs of concern were mainly internal—the parallel Roman law and Ostrogoth legal systems ran under the regal Edicts guided by a sense of civility, providing structure for dispute resolution.

But the stories take place in the far south of Italy, far from the capitol at Ravenna. There is social unrest, the Church and nobles vie for power, and many poor people are displaced. While many people think of politics in a national way, local politics can impact individual characters.

Think of your local town where a do-gooder serves as treasurer of several local non-profits and finds a way to skim off a little for himself from each treasury, or the local manufacturer who spends time eyeing young girls in the schoolyard. These are people with local power who also have a darker side.

Whether your story is set in the present or the distant past, the characters are human. Human nature does not change. As a writer, you don’t have to look far to find people involved in politics who hide secrets.

The challenge in historical novels is to know the politics of the time well enough to weave it into the story. The human nature of your characters takes care of their actions. The politics is part of the background that sets some people in power and others who work against that power.

Politics adds dimension. The characters provide the conflict working within the political structure.  Politics is part of the story world that adds conflict by displaying human weakness.

Zara Altair 
Zara Altair writes traditional mysteries set in the time of Ostrogoth Rule in Italy in The Argolicus Mysteries

Similar Posts