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Real World Interferes with Story


Felis amatus
I debated putting this here, because I thought it might spark a tangent. Politics is verboten, and I won't feel bad about having stray posts deleted, which I am generally loathe to do.

I have short stories set in a persistent fantasy world, mostly in one large city which is at the heart of much that is going on in the world. I have a rough outline of a timeline that I started years ago, when I first began thinking of stories in this setting.

The event that is coming up quickly in my stories is that the government of the city, in response to rumors of unrest, possibly stoked by outside interests, is going to institute a weapons ban and make the attempt to go throughout the city and collect whatever weapons they can, with the idea that a disarmed populace is less of a civil threat.

You can see where my problem comes in. The protagonists in my story are not going to favor this idea; in fact, as it works out, the act is a prelude to increased oppression by the city. Given news events of late, I can't help but think the story will be viewed by some as a commentary on real-world political subjects, when in fact it wasn't intended to be and the general timeline has been in place for quite a while.

So the question, simply, is this: without tossing out the entire idea, what are some steps that could be taken to minimize a reader's assumption that the author is commenting on real-world policies rather than just having some fun with a fantasy setting?


I had a few thoughts reading this, bear with me.

Firstly, that many cities in medieval europe outlawed the carrying of weapons while in town, so "confiscated" them upon entry. If the law isn't made public knowledge before its institution, lots of people would simply go to town with their weapon like normal and they'd catch a whole bunch all at once; of course, once word of mouth sets in, people would just stop carrying them.

Another thought is to make the outlawing of weapons more than just that, like teaching others how to use weapons not used for hunting is illegal, weapon training schools not sanctioned by the state, foundries or manufactories of weapons, weapon vendors etc..

The last though is that you could have the government levy a "tax" (one sufficiently steep that many can't afford to pay it) on "unregistered" weapons and coupled with a two fork law that makes it necessary to register weapons (limit the number per household) and allows mandatory yearly inspections on all properties, you could get "unregistered" weapons that way, especially if the inspections are at random times.


Comparative paralells may be unavoidable in this situation, but this is what I'd do were I in you're shoes:

Make it seem like a true conspiracy, not a political struggle. Have the city government officials agree to the ban with little inward discord. Don't single out one type of weapon. Whether it be steel or magic, anything that could bring harm must be eliminated.

Not sure if this is good advice or not, but I hope the best for you with this.


Some of it depends on the timeframe you intend to finish the story and if you intend to self publish or seek a publisher. All are factors in the release time, and a guess as to how long the current attempt building to place new restrictive gun laws on the books will still be going on. Figure a year from now at most, as the politicians would want it to die down before they start running for re-election in the Senate (1/3) and all of the House.

Sometimes SF and Fantasy reflect events in the real world, whether present or past. The notion of outlawing weapons/confication as a prelude to tightening control isn't something new. Thus, why would you need to throw out the idea?


I have a lot of empathy for your dilemma, for I too have had many people read Unfortunate Implications in my writing. Indeed, I would even argue that every single work of fiction that exists has the potential to offend someone out there. Needless to say, you can't please anyway.

It may be an issue of audience at heart. I've noticed that the people most likely to object to my stories' subject matters are the people outside my target demographic anyway. As long as you know which audience you intend to target, I wouldn't worry too much if people not part of that audience flip out over anything in your writing.


Myth Weaver

The nation of Solaria on my main world, while at war is still civilized. Characters who walk into anything other than a wilderness outpost or traverssing a bandit prone roadway while bearing weapons automatically attract the attention of the local law. And if they're not aristocrats, caravan guards, or something of the sort, confiscation of weapons is likely. Anything more than a belt knife or staff is...frowned upon.

Across the Cauldron (ocean) in the somewhat more primitive nation of Cimmar, the situation is worse for weapon weilders. Cimmar is a collection of tribes and decadent city states conquored about a hundred years ago. Apart from a tiny warrior aristocracy and some (mostly nomad) mercenaries, Cimmars armed forces are peasant militia recruited from the subjugated locals - which recieve next to no training because their of the fear of revolt. Hence, unless a war is brewing, a commoner getting any sort of real weapon training is basically treated as a rebel to be killed on sight. Same with unauthorized possession of a weapon, though some rural sorts such as hunters and trappers are permitted bows.

I made these decisions at the outset because they are both logical (from the authorities standpoint) and more in accord with 'historical reality'. Real world parallels didn't enter into it.
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I have a lot of empathy for your dilemma, for I too have had many people read Unfortunate Implications in my writing. Indeed, I would even argue that every single work of fiction that exists has the potential to offend someone out there. Needless to say, you can't please anyway.

It may be an issue of audience at heart. I've noticed that the people most likely to object to my stories' subject matters are the people outside my target demographic anyway. As long as you know which audience you intend to target, I wouldn't worry too much if people not part of that audience flip out over anything in your writing.

The extension of this is that any time someone finds something problematic in your work, you can dismiss their concerns by saying they're not part of your target audience. They're reading your work, so they're in your audience, whether you targeted them or not. Being able to take legitimate criticism is important, and if you can listen to your beta readers and find ways to make it clear that any unfortunate implications are not things you actually condone, that will take care of a lot of issues.

But a little more on topic, I get the impression that Steerpike is more concerned about his story being read as an analogy or a "ripped from the headlines" sort of story, rather than potentially offending someone. I have seen analogous situations done artfully, and I have seen it done not-so-artfully by some of the greats of fantasy literature (who then staunchly denied that certain characters were Christ-figures, among other things). It doesn't sound like the city government enacts its weapons ban in response to, say, a massacre in the local academy or some such, which would be a pretty callous and obvious appropriation of recent events. Including some sort of National Crossbow Association that staged protests against the ban would also be a pretty big tipoff. Short of such things, I think it would be pretty easy to spin this in a way that won't just come off as a thin layer of fantasy over Earth politics.


Hero Breaker

I don't think it's possible to separate your stories from real world implications. Further, I think authors do write their personal beliefs in their stories. Because of this, why even bother worrying about this concern? If your heroes join the resistance to the city government, you're telling readers that the private citizen has the right to bare arms because of the fear of what will happen once they weapons are off the streets.

Heroes = right

Antagonists = wrong

I know I made a few assumptions, but this is how I see all authors.


Saellys has hit the nail on the head - if you have things that parallel the news, it's going to look deliberate. So maybe the answer is to lean away from the real life situation. For example, one of the main arguments against gun control is a ruling in the American Constitution about the right to bear arms. So in your world, you might want to avoid a written statement of such right, weakening opposition to the new ruling and giving your antagonists greater legal right to confiscate weapons.

Meanwhile the biggest argument in favour of gun control is the prevention of mass harm by preventing those who have decided to cause it from getting hold of guns. If mass harm isn't an issue in your world this argument vanishes and the parallels do too. So the way to do that is not have weapons with the destructive capability of guns - not too difficult, since a sword is limited by range and a bow or crossbow by firing rate and the skill of the archer, and if you do have early guns, they're limited by terrible innaccuracy as well as firing rate (the earliest were much slower to reload and less accurate than bows). If you simply don't have incidents where masses of people are harmed or killed by one individual with a weapon, you don't have a parallel to the recent sad news. Where lots of deaths and injuries do take place in a fantasy world would be where there are lots of people on all sides all trying to have a go at one another - and that can easily be more about civil order, about human behaviour, and about having enough guards on the streets, than weapon control, because situations where lots of people are fighting each other are likely to involve criminal activity, all parties just as armed and ready and willing to fight as one another, and any innocent or civilian deaths being collateral rather than the target.

Then to really hit home that it's not intended as a parallel to recent events, you can split the weapon control by class. Elites can carry all the swords and crossbows they like (though may be required to show papers if gate guards don't recognise them), but a peasant with a dagger gets locked up without a second glance. That makes it very much about the elites oppressing the lower classes, rather than about government removing citizen rights that apply to everyone including members of government. Add to that hints that the elites' fear of revolution is what it's really about, rather than whatever reason they claim it is - which at the very least should be worded noticably differently from the current situation if not outright actually different - and I'd say you're home and dry.


I think the easiest thing to do might be play up the fantastic elements of the setting.

Yeah, parallels will happen, but if someone's going to come to those conclusions they could pick any number of similar instances of this kind of policy from throughout history. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen, you know. Just do what you can to minimise the back lash I suppose. Make it obvious this is a story.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
One of my favorite movies of all time is Wall-E, and every time I tell somebody that, they give me funny looks because they wouldn't think I would appreciate the "politics" of it. There are no politics in Wall-E, and the commentary even walks through how the story was created - how things changed frequently, how the political-sounding elements were tertiary, just to make the story make sense. Nothing in Wall-E reminds me of politics because it's not there, and I'm not looking for it.

So my advice is not to worry about it, and to focus instead on making a good character-driven story. The more you worry about it, the more I think you'll find yourself inserting phrases that remind people of politics while you try and make it non-politically-sided, and nevermind offending people, you'll do worse. You'll break immersion.

After all, swords are not guns, and fantasy kingdoms are not democracies. There's no reason it should be political unless somebody makes it political - either your readers, or you.
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I'm a little surprised. You're usually a voice of "do what feels right for your story and characters and tell a good story". I never thought this would affect you.

I can understand the fear of being labeled a "ripped-from-the-headlines" type of story, but so long as your story is internally consistent and characters have their own motivations, then it probably will not be clear to anyone what your personal beliefs are unless this is something that over-and-over-and-over again shows up in your stories.

But again, weapon bans are EXTREMELY common throughout the years. I always think of swords in Japan, but they've done it practically everywhere. Be careful about where you draw the line though For instance, most people carried around daggers back in the day as a tool, even if they weren't allowed to have a sword. If you outlaw daggers, do you outlaw steak knives? Is the weapon ban background noise that's barely relevant, something to overcome, or a prominent plot point?

Stuff to consider.


Well, if you haven't done so already, you might want to consider what your own opinion on the real-world issue is. Do you believe in the position you think might be seen in your story? Or do you think the opposing side has good arguments and want to develope them within the story? Have you never thought about a connection to real life-issues before the recent events made it to the press? If you know why you want to write this, you can judge better.

In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with putting political opinions into fantasy if it's done in a subtle rather than a preachy way. If the issue is highly controversial, there might be plenty of debate but that doesn't have to be bad for your success. Bringing such a story out when the subject matter is fresh in everyone's mind can be problematic of course. Given that such things usually don't last long among the people only affected by it via the media, it won't be such a hot issue anymore when your book's acutally being published.
Depending on the way your handling it, it's quite possible that readers won't even make the connection. The entire Umbridge plotline in Harry Potter for example could be viewed in a similar light, but I've hardly ever seen someone comment on this. The situation is just too fantastical for this to happen and it's quite possible that the same will be true about your story as well. In most fantasy stories, weapons are much more common than in modern western societies and most people probably won't connect what's happening with them to real issues. At least as long as you aren't using arguments that sound almost exactly like those from the real debate. The same goes for groups and specific situations.
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Felis amatus
Thanks, guys, I appreciate all of the thoughtful commentary. I don't intend to change the planned direction of the story, but I think you've hit on some good advice in this threads in terms of minimizing what people infer from the story in relation to real-world policy. The story isn't intended to be social commentary, and I don't want it to come over as overt social commentary of any sort because I personally hate that when I'm reading stories.

Those who pointed out that weapons bans are found throughout history - that's a good point as well. In fact, it seems a natural course for those in power in my story to take, and I wouldn't have thought twice about it were it not for the current news about weapons bans in the U.S.

The story really does focus on the characters, and I think the advice above about retaining the character focus and just making that part very good is the right idea. There will be those who draw parallels - it can't be avoided, as some of you have pointed out. But the story is meant to be fun and I'd like to keep it that way.

As for my personal views, they align more or less with the protagonists, so I'm not uncomfortable putting the 'good' guys in that position. It's just that the story wasn't intended to push one side or another, though given the mere fact that my protagonists, who the reader should be rooting for, take one side will make it seem that way to some.