Changing of the guard - swift or slow?

This morning I was thinking about how hard it is to change the powers that be – both in real life and in books. In books, overthrow/change has to be plausible, effective, and within the realm of possibility for the main characters.


History lends a hand in creating believable scenarios. A couple that immediately come to my mind are:

King Henry the VIII – without his powerful position, and his desire for a male heir (a goal of a living male heir to the throne was never attained), the Church of England would not have been started. Henry was willing to buck the Pope, get excommunicated, and start his own religion – all so he could divorce and remarry at will, in his quest for a male heir.

Hitler – I don’t want to dwell on this one. But, it must be noted that his rocketing rise to power and the horrific influence he had is worth studying – not only in the pursuit of writing a similar character, but in creating a credible timeline for change.

So – my question for y’all is… Do you pay attention to the time element in your sci-fi/dystopian worlds? Does it bother you if something happens in light speed when logically /historically it’s taken much longer?

What do you think?

7 comments:

Tere Kirkland said...

Ooh, I like this topic. I think that in hindsight a few years to make a change doesn't seem so long, historically speaking. But in YA fiction a four or five year overthrow would seem to the young characters to be like a lifetime. It would be hard to write a story where the changes were being brought about so slowly and keep the pacing interesting.

My wip is an alternate history, so I've been thinking quite a bit about how much change needs to come about, and what time-frame I'll have to do it in. Most importantly, I want the scenario to ring-true. To seem plausible, as well as powerful. It's a tough balance, but I think that studying history has also taught me plenty of strategies that I can adapt for my own purposes.

History, FTW! ;)

The Daring Novelist said...

The thing is that Change doesn't actually happen gradually. Even if you study evolution and geology, change tends to be like an earthquake: the forces build up gradually, but the change happens fast.

But I do thing that fiction writers should understand better that when a Hitler arises, or a Henry VIII does something rash, or even a Martin Luther sets a reformation in motion, they succeed because whatever they did was ready to happen.

(In other words, you've got to pay attention to the silent majority to know what's really going to happen.)

Jessi said...

I'd say there are generally two kinds of change that happen in dystopian. Change for the better and change for the worse.
Change for the worse is normally when the word becomes dystopian. First, I think the way this happens depends on what kind of story you're writing since there are a few very different kinds of dystopian. In one kind, the character is living under a large, controlling government with lots of laws, like in Matched and Hunger Games. In the other kind, the character is surviving in a world with very few, or no laws, like Ashes and Ship Breaker.
In the lawless dystopian, I would guess the changes happened very fast and were brought about by nuclear war, a zombie invasion, or global warming(though global warming seems to be becoming almost cliché and would happen more slowly so there's less chance of a lawless world.)
With the controlling government, I think the change probably will happen more slowly with freedoms slowly taken away. (My guess is that the more content the people are, the slower the change happened.) This seems to have happened many times in recent history, and is even happening in the USA. (It's happening slowly but airport scanners and increased of restrictions on firearms are some examples.)
I really don't like people basing their evil leader guy of Hitler, mainly because I've seen it so many times it seems cliché. There are lots of other villains throughout history who are less well known and would probably work just as well. (Stalin would be an example of this. With a little tweaking, even Churchill could work.)
The change for the better is normally where the MC comes in. In the case of lawless dystopian, I see no way the change can happen quickly, unless the world has not been lawless for more than a few years. Once people have become accustomed to no one telling them what to do, they probably would not take kindly to someone saying they need to obey laws.
With the change of a controlling government, I think the change could happen quickly. The recent uprising in Egypt, the Iranian Revolution, and the American Revolutionary War would be good examples of a reasonably quick change.
The best example of a fictional dystopian government I've seen would actually be Star Wars.(It's not really considered dystopian because it doesn't focus on the aspects of dystopian but I think it's still a realistic example.) The main bad guy manages to take over by engineering a war and controlling both sides, then, the Rebellion takes years to beat the bad guy. (And then, when you read the Star Wars books, you find out it took years to mop up the military leaders who weren't killed when the Death star blew up.)
Come to think of it, I really need to stop writing replies longer than the original blog post.

Julia Karr said...

Interesting replies! And, that's okay, Jessi - your comment is full of great awesome ideas & insights!

Jamie Sedgwick said...

Great subject! I'm in agreement with the above posts. Last year's events in the Mideast serve as perfect examples of this phenomena. It may take years to set the dominoes up, but after the first one falls, you can hardly keep up with the changes.
Revolution is what happens when the dominoes start falling, and it often happens literally overnight.

Catherine Stine said...

Good topic. I think it has to be somewhat realistic, within the world you create. But you can do a lot to telescope events by a bit of backstory wedged in at an opportune time.

Julia Karr said...

Thanks for everyone's inputs and insights!