Building a Revolution
Overthrowing a powerful government in the name of the people is a popular plot. It certainly has a great appeal.
However, before you get all excited about writing a story where the angered people scramble together an army and launch themselves against the government, you might want to take a step back and figure out how they got there in the first place. A revolution isn’t built around one big event: there are things that lead up to it, and there are smaller frustrations that may go unnoticed, but because it’s a part of everyday life, it’s a constant reminder. They might not be the things people point to when identifying what started the revolution, but they certainly kept the wood for the fire warm.
At what point did the government begin to ruffle feathers?
It’s going to start out small. It will be annoying, but dismissed as bearable. It may cause a bit of an obstacle, but nothing that people can’t work around. Perhaps the government won’t let working class or its colonies to use the official currency. Perhaps items of higher quality were held for only certain people the government deemed worthy.
When did the government start adding to the little things?
For one reason or another, the government starts putting restrictions or laws on more things. They’re still able to work around them, but people will talk to each other about their frustration over it. It’s also important to remember that the government will have a reason for it. Maybe the new law/restriction is more cost effective, Maybe it’s intended for protection. Some examples might be that the colonies/citizens are limited to government approved materials. Or they’re banned from traveling to a certain place, and that place happens to be on the fastest path to another colony/town.
What started sparking outrage?
Perhaps the government overspent on something, or they went to war and are now low on funds, so they introduce a tax on an item that’s considered an everyday luxury. Or perhaps a ban is introduced and it affects something that everyone normally gets, but not necessarily a need. There’s still not enough to pick up arms and fight, and the people might at this point lobby with the government to reconsider some of its strategies.
When did it start picking up speed?
Perhaps the first tax isn’t bringing in enough funds. Or the government feels the people aren’t paying as much as they should. So another tax is introduced. Or perhaps the ban isn’t that effective and so another ban is introduced to keep people from finding loopholes. Maybe the government has to ban certain imports. Anger with the government is increasing at this point. The citizens/colonists may understand why the government is doing it, but they know they’re getting the raw deal. Attempts to get the government’s attention become more aggressive, but there isn’t harming of other people.
How does the government respond?
So the government responds to the people’s cries of outrage, but not in the way they expected. Another tax and/or ban is introduced, or even a new law. Perhaps citizens/colonists are forced to use a material they are opposed to. Perhaps the government realizes that if it doesn’t do something, it’s going to lose control over its citizens/colonies. The militia/police force is increased to keep an eye for rebellious acts. Arrests are made daily, and the people might be released if nothing is found. Perhaps the government starts forbidding certain things to be said in the media, so people are forced to rely on word of mouth, and must do so carefully because of the increase in arrests. Perhaps at this time, the idea of revolting is mentioned while others insist on trying to be diplomatic.
When does the physical conflict happen?
Perhaps there was a scuffle with the police force. Either the citizens/colonists attacked first, or the police/militia acted aggressively. Perhaps there was a massacre of some kind. Maybe there were incidents that didn’t result in injury or death, but it came close to it. Perhaps the government or citizens/colonists made a precautionary move that made the other party highly uncomfortable. As the incidents, whether of violent or nonviolent nature, increase in number, the intensity also increases. Influential people of the citizens/colonists begin to suggest a revolution, or to declare independence. The government begins to realize they’re losing control unless they take more drastic measures.
When does the idea of a revolution actually become a threat?
Revolting or declaring independence becomes something that many people agree with. The government perhaps realizes this and so starts making laws or regulations to keep it from happening. Weaponry might become illegal for citizens/colonists so they won’t have anything to fight with if/when a revolution actually happens. Curfews might be enforced. Those outspoken about the government might be tailed. The influential people work hard on a new government or system to replace the oppressive government. Perhaps they just plan to outright revolt instead of declaring independence. But either way, the citizens/colonists are only one word from the government away from declaring war.
It may seem like a lot to work on, but there are events leading up to the revolution that will resound with some people more than others. Or there are events that will become a bitter memory that will help give some depth to each individual character.
Some things to consider when building the revolution:
It is not as black and white as it may seem. Both sides are going to be guilty of doing something wrong; it’s just going to be more obvious in the government. There are going to be people among the citizens/colonists who side with government and they’re not necessarily going to be bad guys. When creating the conflict, keep in mind why people would choose one side over the other.
Stages will overlap. A revolution isn’t going to be cleanly cut as posted above. There are several times when a “stage” will mix with another “stage”, while others may blend right into the next one. Timelining the process and placing each event can be extremely helpful as you try to keep events straight.
The revolters are most likely going to be the underdog. They may have experienced people on their side, but if the revolution is going to made up of average citizens/colonists, they’re going to be at a disadvantage. The government is going to be in control of an army and other resources. The revolters are going to have to work to achieve their goals.