Writing/reality: inspiration from conflict

As much as I avoid getting political, events in our world can be used as an inspiration – or a warning – for crafting fictional plots. This week, it’s 10 years since the events that started what was then called ‘Arab Spring’, though it’s more like yet another Arabian Failure, from the western point of view. Is there something to take away from these events to use in writing fiction?

Iraq War photo (2013) – public domain picture

I’m not an expert on politics, warfare, or history – so take my thoughts as exactly that – thoughts and opinions. And keep in mind that it’s always easier to judge something with the power of hindsight than at the moment it happens.

The situation

When the conflict – and the subsequent revolts – began, the western world had quite welcome them. They saw it as a chance to see the current stiff leadership structures replaced and happily intervened, hoping to see those countries to emerge with ruling structures similar to western democracies.

But the problems in those countries ran far too deep and wide for the result to be that big.

The Wikipedia article states quite a long list of causes. To name a few: authoritarianism, corruption, secratism, demographic factors, human rights violations, and a swath of reasons caused by the late-2000 financial crisis such as poverty, unemployment, and inflation.

Chart by Michel Bakni, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77275387

When the world’s major powers were thrown into the mix, it went on a downhill spiral. Partially because of that involvement, which is hard to prevent, as the same fuel deposits that power most of the world are the main reason for the on-going instability in the region (tracing back before even the first world war).

When the goals of the common populace (of which most wanted only to escape the clutches of poverty and the talks of western democracy weren’t a big deal for them), the goals of the ruling structures, and the goals of the world’s power clashed… there probably wasn’t any good way out, which is why the conflict still continues, in some way or another.

The takeaway for fiction

Any major conflict in human history had several underlying reason, even if the ‘trigger’ was quite simple. Even though the bullet fired in Sarajevo is considered the main trigger, the political situation in Europe was going downhill since the mid-1800s. In turn, the second world war was coming pretty much since the first one ended, and anything that happened after the second war shaped any future conflict (though they haven’t reached the scale of a world-wide armed conflict).

Thus, researching the major conflicts in human history may give some insight into what can cause a war, and how some factors combine to that effect. It’s likely that neither of the reasons for the eventual Syrian War would be enough on its own. But when tens of issues accumulated, it became too much.

Social causes

Social causes were the major power beyond most revolts – and how they’re handled in the early stages may well decide the future for decades. Diplomatic solution may be a good choice internally but may invite trouble from outside if it leads to what may be seen as too big a compromise and thus a sign of weakness. Quelling it by force may, in turn, may send a strong message both inward and outward, but it’ll also let the issues fester instead of actually solving them.

Looking into past conflicts caused by social issues (poverty, disease outbreaks, etc.) may be good start for writing fantasy or historical fiction.

Arms race

Having better tools at your disposal than your opponnent was always a thing, though the magnitude grew in the recent years. The first world war was preceded by a major arms race, and it continues in one form or another to this day.

And while this may seem a topic fit for more modern stories (and way into Sci-Fi), fantasy offers many ways for an arms race – the potential of using magic or strange creatures in war is as big as it is with present-time or future tech.

Balance of power

In the decades before the first world war, the major powers had (despite frequent smaller clashes) tried to keep their relative power on a similar level by various treaties. This is no different now, and technology (arms race) plays a major part in it.

Thus, most conflict (whether in reality or fiction) start when the balance is tipped way too far. The more parts are needed to create such a balance, the stronger ‘avalanche’ will the collapse cause. In a world (or region) divided into tens of factions, a conflict will become increasingly complex (or outright confusing to someone not invested in it, as the Syrian War demonstrates) and reaching its end will be all the harder.

This brings many challenges – a complex world-building will take a lot of effort to execute well and it may take a lot of effort for the writer – or even the reader – to keep it all straight. And, in case of complex fictional universes, it may cause many plot holes (as I’ve said a few times about the Warcraft game universe).


I’ll wrap it up here. I’ll welcome your thoughts – what events in human history had you used for analysis, research, or inspiration for writing fiction? What are your favorite examples of well-executed conflict? Or anything else that comes to your mind regarding the topic at hand? You’re welcome to share your opinions in the comment section, and you’re welcome to ask questions as well.

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