A way with worlds: 26 – More Crime and Punishment by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum

Well the last column on crime, law, and punishment in one’s continuity generated the most feedback I’ve had period. Even more than the religion columns. However, there is more to cover, and I decided to extend the column once more to address some specific issues on writing crime, law, and punishment in your continuity. Special thanks to a certain Jedi Lawyer 

Without further ado, a quick look at some odds and ends of writing law, crime, and punishment in your settings.

THE PUNISHMENT FITS WHAT?:
Want to write about crime and law? Read history and sociology, see how other times and cultures dealt with these issues. If you do, however, you’ll find three things:

Concepts of what a crime is vary.
Concepts of what appropriate punishment vary as well.
Why a punishment is applied may differ from culture to culture.
You’ll find people able to beat their wives without punishment, and people hung for pickpocketing. Cultures you wouldn’t expect had outlawed torture, other supposedly civilized ones made it a common practice. This is just human history of our planet – imagine the variances that may be seen on your imaginary worlds . . .

In short, what a crime is and said crime is addressed and the reasons it is addressed are all important elements to consider when designing the culture of your worlds. A seemingly minor crime may warrant death as the populace fears it will upset a god. A supposedly major crime may be accepted due to old traditions or new ideas. Something hideously cruel or amazingly open-minded may exist for reasons you’d never expect.

Taking a tour of history and cultures around the world will prove very eye-opening.

ENFORCEMENT:
There are a lot of stereotypes about law enforcement drifting around mass media. Accuracy aside, the real question is what is it like to enforce law in your setting.

There’s a lot of questions to ask when you’re designing law enforcement in your world:

Where does its money come from?
What social strata do the members come from?
Are there enough law enforcement personnel to do their job?
How does the culture treat its law enforcers?
Is the job of a law enforcement person clear to them? Something they can do?
What is the level of corruption in law enforcement?
IMPORTANT: What is it like to be in law enforcement. Even if your stories don’t deal with law enforcement, knowing how it works in your continuity, on an individual level, is important
If the law and legal aspects of your world are even remotely touched on, you need to know about how that part of the world and the culture works. The best way, I find, is to step into the shoes of your average policeman/paladin/whoever that enforces the laws.

What is it like, for instance, to deal with advanced computer crime in a cyberpunk culture? Or what is it like knowing you’ll have to kill someone in the name of a law you don’t trust? Can you arrest someone knowing they face terrible torture, or resist arresting someone when you know they have committed something terrible but not a crime?

THE POLICE STATE PARADOX:
This, finally, is something that’s important to address in any writing involving culture and law. I call it the Police State Paradox.

It’s easy to assume, in your writing, that people will simply outlaw anything they find bad and then the world will be perfect. It sounds simplistic, but it’s an easy mistake to make in creating a world, and though I hate to sound cynical, it seems many politicians make this as well.

Law, crime, punishment, sanction – it’s not easy, not guaranteed, not always clear, and not always done in the best interest of people. Trying to legislate every aspect of life isn’t freedom, isn’t safety – it’s a police state, and thus not something fun to live in, and something hard (impossible?) to do. If you try to write a perfectly regulated paradise, you’re going to find it very hard to explain believably.

SUMMARY:
Well, I hope this column was helpful as well. Hopefully I can take a break from writing about law for awhile and address other issues.

There aren’t any Steve’s Sites as . . . I don’t have any. So, if you have any useful web resources you want me to post, let me know. Even if its one you’ve created, let me take a look and we’ll see if it can make a future column!

A Way with Worlds is hosted at fanfiction.net and sffworld.com, and is archived at the Way With Worlds archive.

Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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