Three Tips For Writing Sci-Fi Political Drama

2015 Artwork Sci-fi political drama article sketch

One of the interesting things about the sci-fi genre is how it can often include things from lots of other genres too (eg: horror, comedy, adventure, thrillers etc…) so, for today, I thought that I’d look at how to add political drama to sci-fi stories.

Although political drama is usually a background detail in many sci-fi stories, comics, TV shows etc… it’s something which can really add a lot of complexity and drama to your story. So, here are a few basic tips for how to do it:

1) Systems of government: one of the cool things about sci-fi political drama is that it allows you to use any system of government that you want.

Whether it’s the noble houses in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, the totalitarian dictatorship in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” or the Borg collective in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, science fiction allows writers to experiment with all sorts of unusual forms of government.

In other words, the politics in your sci-fi story or comic don’t have to be a carbon copy of modern politics. However, your choice of political system will influence how your audience see the world of your story.

For example, if you use an “old” form of government – eg: autocracy, feudalism, absolute monarchy, colonialism etc.. then your story will have more of a historical fantasy-style atmosphere to it.

However, if you include something that is arguably more futuristic, like direct governance by corporations, a type of hyper-democracy where everyone votes on every political issue via the internet or possibly governance by a supercomputer of some kind, then your story is going to have more of a “traditional” sci-fi kind of atmosphere to it.

Of course, even if you just reflect modern democracy in your sci-fi story, then you can still play with it quite a bit. You can use it as an example of how a democracy should work (eg: politicians that are actually ordinary people, referenda on major issues, proportional representation, very strict rules on political donations etc.. ), but you could also use it as a way to satirise or criticise modern democracies (eg: corporate influence in politics, political party dogma, participation in politics only being available to the wealthy etc...)

But, whatever you do, it’s important to think about how your choice of which system of government you’re going to use will influence how your readers see your story.

2) Simplification: If you’re creating an entirely new political system, then you’re probably going to have to simplify it slightly. Whilst most people have a reasonable knowledge of the political system of their own country (and possibly another country or two too ), your readers won’t have this background knowledge if they’re reading a sci-fi story.

What this means is that you’re going to have to explain your system of government to your readers in an interesting way. Since long descriptions of political systems can be, well, boring – you’ll probably need to simplify the political system in your story slightly so that you can explain it to your readers fairly quickly.

You can show more details of it through the events of your story, but the basic idea/ premise of your story must be simple enough that it can be summed up in a few sentences at most.

Likewise, don’t be afraid to leave some of the less-important parts of the political system in your comic unexplained. After all, in stories and TV shows that are based on real political systems (like an American TV show called “The West Wing”) obscure political traditions and rules are sometimes mentioned without any real explanation. As long as you don’t do this too often, then it will add extra depth to your story.

3) Realistic politicians: This is probably fairly obvious but, even though your story is set in the future, you still need to make the politicians in your story realistic characters – this goes for both the good and the bad ones.

To use a totally hypothetical example, if one of your characters is an evil politician who wants to make the poor poorer, to ban and censor everything, to erode civil liberties etc… then you need to show how he or she came to hold these opinions. You need to hint at things like his or her aristocratic background and the company that he or she keeps (eg: ultra-rich people and influential right-wing press barons).

Just turning this character into a cartoon villain without any explanation might be melodramatic, but it won’t be dramatic. The thing to remember here is that every politician, no matter how evil, thinks that they’re a good person who is doing the right thing.

The same thing goes for the “good” politicians in your story. You need to hint at the formative experiences that led to them holding the opinions that they do and you need to show the thought processes that led them to campaign for more benevolent policies. Just having a character that is good because they are good is just as melodramatic as having a character who is evil for the sake of evil.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

2 comments on “Three Tips For Writing Sci-Fi Political Drama

  1. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you for a very useful and very interesting post!

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