A way with worlds: 25 - Crime and Punishment (and a lot of other stuff)
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 2
One thing that can get
overlooked in worldbuilding is legal systems. It's easy to assume
things are perfect, or corrupt, or "just like us," or
some other simple classification.
In my opinion, writing about
crime in a setting is harder than religion - it seems easier to
tolerate some religious differences, but crime, often due to
politicization, is a much different issue. Ask yourself how many
political campaigns or debates you've seen where candidates and
debates practically brand their opponents as supporting rapists
Exactly. It's not easy.
In fact, I think popular
culture and politics makes crime and law very, very difficult to
write about - stereotypes, assumptions, easily taken offense,
etc. all conspire against the writer. So, I'm going to illustrate
a step-by-step way to look at issues of law, crime, and
punishment in your setting.
First and foremost, drop
your assumptions when writing. Explore. If you're going to
address controversial and/or complex issues, be open to learning
and don't force what you're doing. Otherwise, it'll read false.
And now . . .
STEP ONE: Reasons
Why are laws in your setting created? The answer, of
course, is almost never one answer - there are multiple reasons,
and reasons differ between laws and between lawmakers.
It's too simple to say
"well we created this law to stop crime" - but who
created it, why, and why do they think it will work? Was there
popular demand, or is the law part of a theocracy or
dictatorship? Do the people supporting it have ulterior motives?
Laws may be passed to
control/regulate/guide behavior - but the motivations and reasons
behind them can vary with your setting and with individual
STEP TWO: Passing
How to laws in your setting get implemented? Divine
right or a parliament? No debate or endless discussion? Will it
get altered in any way or are attempts made to keep laws in
"pure" form? How is it communicated outside of the
lawmaking body, group, or inner circle?
Laws need to be passed in
forms people can understand - or there will be trouble down the
road. This may be part of your plot, but if it isn't, make sure
you understand the lawmaking process in your setting.
Once a law is made people and law enforcement bodies
need to know about it - which is a challenge in itself.
A law has to be explained,
communicated, and made clear - which can be a daunting task. What
methods of communication are used and who do they reach? Will
people understand? Can the law be twisted or misunderstood in the
communication process. Will the right people know?
After all if you don't know
about a law, you can't follow it or enforce it.
STEP FOUR: Enforcing
If the devil is in the details, you should start
smelling brimstone right about now.
You've got a law, you've
hopefully communicated it to people. Now, it has to be enforced.
Law enforcement is not an
easy thing. It costs money and resources, it requires people or
other entities to enforce it. You need to make sure it's done
right, so feedback is required. In short, law enforcement takes
work to do right - and even then, you may not get it right.
This is one of the areas of
writing I find people mess up the most when dealing with crime
and law. Its too easy to have "cops-catch-the-bad-guys"
storylines and thrown-off plot elements. However, realistically,
it's not that easy - you need the people to do the catching, the
equipment to do the catching, and the opportunity.
Sounds like it's not as easy
as you'd think? Ask people in law enforcement. And, remember, the
story of a law doesn't end with enforcement.Next Page
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.