Writing

Laws and freedoms in your fictional world

You know why writing is great? Because you can do anything you want. This is especially true if you’re writing a fictional world, alternate reality, far flung future/past etc. Every day, our real life choices are opened or restricted by the rules and freedoms of our time. You may agree with some of these, and completely refute others. Bear this in mind when you’re creating the world in which your characters reside.

So you’ve built your fictional nation of Wizardopia, come up with an amazingly detailed magic system and you know details, down to why the horses in that country smell like dolphins. However, civil rights and prejudices are sometimes left by the wayside in planning, which can be a real shame.

You can use fiction to make a strong point about the world that we live in. Perhaps you hate the way that a certain section of society is treated. In your world, why not fix it? Imagine you’ve got a mixing desk, with all those sliders and knobs to turn. Each one represents a civil issue, and you can turn each one up and down to your heart’s content.

I’ll give you an example, by creating a place right now. In this country, there are some stark differences to our reality. First of all, sexuality is not an issue. For the citizens of Madeupland, the very idea of discrimination based on sexual preference is absurd. Homophobia is considered a mental illness there. Also, people of all races and genders enjoy the same freedoms and job prospects. Healthcare is free, and easily available to all sections of society. Unemployment is low, and those seeking jobs are looked after with both monetary benefits and further education programs, all paid for by the government.

Sounds like a great place, right? All is not as it seems. The people of Madeupland think of themselves as a wondrous forward thinking society, and believe they only have justified prejudices and laws. However, someone from our world might not enjoy everything that goes on there. First of all, the death penalty is still in force, and is used for more reasons than murder. Theft and adultery are also punishable by death. The nation’s religion is enforced across the whole population. You go to church each week or you pay a hefty fine, with imprisonment for repeat offenders. Actively criticising the religion is also punishable by death. There is no free press, and all news comes from government approved sources.

The Madeupland religion also decrees that only humans have souls, so animals have no rights at all. This means that the country has a shocking level of animal welfare. Any animal can be tortured, killed and eaten with no backlash at all. People go to watch wild dog fights from a young age, and it’s just viewed as a weekend’s entertainment.

So at first glance, my fictional country looks to be steering a steady ship, but then it turns out that there is a lot wrong with it. If I were to actually write this story, I would have a plethora of tools at my disposal. I could write about a man who finds himself to be homophobic, and also dissents from the nation’s religion. He comes to blame the church for much of what is wrong with his country. However, he finds that some laws are worth living by, and comes to question his views on sexuality, eventually seeking help to let go of his irrational prejudices.

This is just one example, and the possibilities are extensive. Also, think carefully about any messages you want to send with your writing. Perhaps a society starts off with cruel and backwards laws, but starts to become more enlightened thanks to the actions of the protagonist. Or maybe an antagonist tries to erode civil liberties to further their own interests.

Even in fantasy, conflict does not just have to involve swords and magic wands. Whether they know it or not, everyone has some form of prejudice, and perhaps what’s acceptable today will be terrible tomorrow (e.g. Only Fools and Horses is one of the most beloved British sitcoms ever made, but the number of deeply offensive racist and homophobic jokes in it almost defies belief today). Writing that can make us question our own beliefs and rethink how we treat other people and creatures can be the strongest of all.

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