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What things should you keep in mind when writing political intrigue?


What are the things you should know when you write political intrigue?

Are there any guides or books about it?

I know that you should read historical and fictional books. But how can you learn more about writing political intrigue?


Myth Weaver
Not an expert at political intrigue, but one of the key methods of getting what you want seems to be;
Hide your true intentions and getting someone else to do your dirty work for you.
So if you want to be Prime Minister [Clan Chief, Head Doodah], get someone [willing or unwilling] to challenge them.
Willingly might mean appealing to their ego or vanity...
Unwillingly might mean bribery, threats, holding loved ones as leverage... any form of coercion really.
or a mix of the two like seduction.
Likewise, when it comes for your bid for power, best if it looks like someone else's idea. You don't want to look like the whole thing was your idea. You need to look like the reasonable sensible alternative...
For a start I'd read I Claudius. It's a huge book, but I think the Romans did political intrigue better than almost any one. They were willing to risk anything and everything.


What are the things you should know when you write political intrigue?

Are there any guides or books about it?

I know that you should read historical and fictional books. But how can you learn more about writing political intrigue?

Well, personal and emotional aspects of the conflict/intrigue is a must. It can't, or rather shouldn't, be only impersonal reasons but ensure that there's personal aspects to it. If someone is a prime minister and there's a vote of "No Confidence" in the parlament then ensure that the head of the opposition has an antagonistic relation with the prime minister, and that the people who vote one way or another do so due to their relations or personal traits.

But it also depends on what kind of culture and political system this takes Place in. An intrigue in a feudal society will be different from Imperial Rome, which is different from ancient Athens and so on.


toujours gai, archie
@fantastic, what do you mean by the phrase? That is, when you say "political intrigue" what are you picturing?

To anticipate a bit, I'm going to argue that you should simply concentrate on your plot and your characters. Leave aside labels. Let your reviewers talk about the political intrigue in your novel.

We can still kick the concept around, but we need to know we're talking about the same thing. Chances are, it's not the whole of "political intrigue" you're wondering about, but rather some specific elements.


Mine came naturally. I'm a cynic at heart; I believe that all human actions are, at some level, motivated by greed.

When I was doing my worldbuilding, I worked out the financial centers of gravity for the nations in play, and then determined how the people controlling those centers would interact with the governments; i.e., who in which governments had which interests, and who in which financial centers had pull with which parts of government. I threw in some Machiavelli and Schopenhauer to get a little squidgy on the ethics, and most of all, I had everybody trying to get as much as they can while they worked to ensure that everyone else got as little as they can. It kind of wrote itself.

Once you figure out who benefits from which actions, you've got yourself a ballgame.

Caged Maiden

Article Team
I think it begins with the character you're following. To build on Skip's point, if your MC is a duke who's trying to create an alliance with neighbors so that they together can place one of their own people on the throne...well, you might do any number of things. You could have the current king find out about the betrayal but be powerless to stop them because his army is smaller than the combined forces of the duke and his friends. Or, the duke and his allies can succeed, kill the king, and then find that their own alliance is shaky when two or three people all change their minds and want to seat their own sons on the throne. So, if your character is this duke, what he sees, hears, and does will be related to this one element of a political system.

But if your character is the king, his story would be more focused on gathering information, or calling for aid from his allies, maybe. The same plot would occur in both of these examples, but the viewpoint is different and therefore what you show will be, too. It would give the whole story a completely different tone and feel, depending on which character takes center stage.

Now, if you are asking in general for ideas of what to include in a political intrigue story, in order to find the most interesting plot and select the most pertinent character to use as the MC...well that's a big open question. What I find interesting, you may not. I'd say that if you just want to get a sample of some movies or shows with a central focus on intrigue so that you can get ideas, I'd recommend Borgias, House of Cards, and of course GOT.

I think the hardest thing about political intrigue is in deciding what ratio of the whole story should be spent learning information, gossiping, planning a move, etc. because it can quickly become a complex web of lies and it can become confusing to readers. In most stories that lean toward a lot of spy games and the like, the characters have simpler, more relatable character arcs going on at the same time, too. Love stories, personal failures, emotional or mental issues that cause them problems. So if you already know who your character is, that's a great place to start. Think about what will challenge them, what will motivate them, and what they'll see during this story--what correction you're going to be close to and that the reader will experience.

Then hopefully when you watch some movies or read some books that get you really fired up about a scene or concept, you'll know how to relate it to your character and world. :)
My ideas on this:

First, define the politics of your setting.

Second, emphasize the limitations of the politics of your setting and make clear the consequences for breaking the rules.

Third, create politician characters with conflicting agendas.

Fourth, show the politicians pushing the boundaries of the political limitations in furthering their agendas. Maybe even have some of them go outside those limitations, likely in secret, to what extent they can keep it secret.

Fifth, put questions about all this political activity into the reader's mind. Will the politician succeed or get caught? Will the people working for/with the politician break and run to the other side, leak information, seek to further their own agendas in parallel, etc., etc.? Will the politician seek to silence certain people who have helped them? There are plenty of questions you can put in the reader's mind in a political setting, and if those questions intrigue the reader, then you have political intrigue.

K.S. Crooks

To throw in my two cents, I would watch some real politics and observe how people talk in different situations. Try to make sense of the different force at work in one politician- (needs of their constituents, their own desires, wants of their backers, wants of the party). Look at hw people change in different situations and over the course of time in whichever level of government they work. Look at what people with less power and control do to gain more or how they work around their limits to still get what they want. Also consider how much "real" law you want place in your story. don't limit your characters and plot to only things that could really occur. the current election season (over 600 days) in America has show us, there may be now limits to what can be said or done.


I don't know of any 'how to' books for this. However, finding examples and using them as a guide for how to accomplish it is probably what you'll have to do. Take notes as you read...keeping your plot/story in mind. Maybe mark pages to go back to for reference.

A fantasy example that might be useful is Yendi by Steven Brust. Vlad Taltos (an assassin) unravels a mystery around nobles/court intrigue.

R.H. Smith

Hey Fantastic, I love political intrigue. I love writing and reading it. My advice is to think of it as war basically, but without the fighting. It is playing chess in real life. The Art of War is an awesome book which teaches you about warfare (all warfare is based on deception basically).I like what CupofJoe and Malik stated in their posts. Ultimately, you want to achieve your goals without anyone discovering you were behind it. How would you go about that? Or more importantly, your political characters. I'm a low born noble that wants a higher station in life. I find someone two or three stations above me and become their friends. Next I'm watching for anything that could damage their reputation, all while I'm setting myself up for success (ride the coattails of someone else's success...in short i'm staying in the limelight and making sure EVERYONE knows about me. Once it's time, I leak whatever information I have on that person, or blackmail them, or blackmail a loved one of theirs so that they influence that person to do whatever i want. Once they are out of the picture, it's basically rinse and repeat, while trying not to get caught. Hope this helps!