Wars and revolutions are used all the time in fiction books, especially in fantasy. Although wars that last for entire sagas are more common, I was shocked when after a search I realised that the web is short of articles explaining ‘How to write a revolution’.
There are countless articles and posts explaining how to develop a realistic war that will carry your story forward, but the information contained therein cannot also apply to revolutions. They are in fact very different concepts.
A war is a conflict, often initiated by foreign rulers, aimed at taking either the throne or whatever power is in that state.
A revolution is something quite different.
While war only changes the person in charge, a revolution changes everything. It changes laws, it changes rights, it changes powers and their meanings.
Look at the famous French revolution for example, the people discontent with the horrible quality of life of the time revolted. The privileges of the clergy and nobility disappear, the people take over and bloody clashes break out all over the country.
War is fought between two armies. Revolution is fought armed with ideas, new, crazy ideas, that change everything you have believed in up to now.
So rightly so, if you want to write a proper revolution, you have to take these differences into account and figure out how to accommodate the revolution in your story.
In this article, I will explain exactly how to do that.
Related article: 8 Mistakes You Must Not Make When Starting Your Book
To write and speak about fictional historical events, history will be the first of your teachers. It may be a fantasy book but the losses, the suffering, the changes must be real. You have to understand how a revolution starts.
There are signs that something is about to happen, but you don’t know exactly when or who will do it.
Read all about the French revolution, the American revolution, the Russian revolution, the Chinese revolution, but not only that. Even philosophy is full of ideas that have incited rebellion in people’s hearts for centuries. Take for example The Proletarian Revolution, conceived by the famous philosopher Marx.
Revolutions are often born out of political, but also social discontent. They put a point and start a new chapter in the history of the country, but this change is not always supported by all the people. Different people have different ideas, but as soon as the struggles begin, everything has already changed, and even if the rules remain the same for a while, the new ideas, which have taken deep root in people’s heads, overturn everything in a matter of years.
As The Invisible Life of Addie Larue puts it:
ideas are so much wilder than memories, that they long and look for ways of taking root.
From studying these revolutions (I know the word study scares you but it is nothing more than reading their history and getting what you need, no dates or places to remember here), you will realise that there are always commonalities.
Above all, you will realise the years, the decades, the centuries. A revolution has no limit, no deadline. It has a beginning and an end, but the lines are blurred, you never know exactly when it began and when it was completed.
Precisely because although they take dates based on the first clashes, the revolution is not that. That is just the result of the revolution. One would have to understand who and when they planted the first ideas.
To understand this, one looks in philosophy, in political speeches, in manifestos, in art. The signs are always there. Always, so your book must also have them.The air of change must be felt in the speeches, the concern and the excitement.
It is not important that you devote whole chapters to it, you would risk boredom. The signs are light, almost imperceptible. Make them noticeable to the narrator, let the reader know.
As if to tell him or her “This is not a whim of the day, this is a change that started long before today”.
Give your story a real history.
You must always bear in mind that a country does not change from one day to the next. A small civil uprising is not enough to change the situation. That is only the beginning, a revolution is made up of many battles, some won by the people, some lost.
It is made up of several changes of power, sometimes for the better but sometimes the new power makes the same mistakes as the previous one. It is not fought by angels and demons. There is not one side that is totally innocent and the other totally wrong.
It is not that simple.
Conflicts happen when there are many ideas and everyone fights for their own. To show feelings of conflict in your book, you don’t necessarily have to use only real conflict scenes. Even just seeing a coat of arms, a symbol of power loved in the past, now trampled upon, will tell the reader a lot.
The rules change
Rules change, but not only that. There is a time when there are none, when they are unstable. There is a time when the law is nothing but waste paper and everyone, in the grip of a desire to act, to change immediately, just follows his instincts and acts.
These moments are the cause of the rivers of blood that characterise a revolution. The blind madness of those who think they are in the right, and therefore think they can hurt those who are in the wrong. The ugliest part of the whole process, the innocent lives lost in the fire of change.
As hallucinating as it is, this is the reality, so remember as you write your book, that revolution is mostly about losing. Losing, losing, losing, and only perhaps, later, gaining.
Before it gets better it gets worse
As I have already said, none of the conflicting parties are angels. They are humans. Whichever side takes power in the beginning will most likely do a bad job.
Maybe the discontent is too much and getting back up seems impossible. Maybe having the government in their hands, they start making massacres and imposing their ideas on everyone else.
Perhaps there are betrayals of trust, corrupt people, who prevent new things and impose the old narrative instead.
Conquering power is easy, maintaining it is another story.
Not all problems are solved with a change of government.
It is important to show the financial, political, relational disasters that a revolution causes in society. It is not a class war and then all friends as before. And it is not right to show it like that.
This article explains well what showing a fictional revolution, all roses and flowers, causes. I really recommend you read it to understand how important your writing is, how much power it has to determine the fate of our future.
I hope this article has helped you at least a little, if you want more articles on writing don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and follow the blog on Pinterest. Happy writing!
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