So, as with far too many of my previous posts, this is another rant on common writing advice. Now before I start, let me make one general statement with regard to cliches. Nothing has been used so many times that it will never be useful ever again. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just go and write some generic Tolkien Fantasy World (unless you want to do that same thing in your own style.)
But with that PSA out of the way, let’s get down to the meat and potatoes of this article. There are a lot of cliches that people think have grown entirely tired in fantasy. The Dark Lord, Evil Sorcerer, Farmboy Hero, etc. and among these is the Evil Empire of Evil.
Yes, you know the one.
Those despotic monarchies with an overly decorated and decadent ruler sitting at the top of everything important in their nation. Those elite military forces that are trained to track down magicians in the name of a religion that resembles the Catholic Church. The one were they all blindly worship the leader and living conditions just plain suck. It’s always been there, and people like to poke fun at it whenever they see it being used. Which can prove to be rather hilarious.
Yet what I find confusing is that some people like to argue that it’s unrealistic that the empire is always evil. Which might hold some truth to it, as empires were not evil all of the time. But when you get down to it, it would be foolish to say that just having empire as the name of your nation doesn’t give negative connotations. In fact, it gives horrible connotations. Before I get down to my over-analytic breakdown, let’s define how empires gain their power.
Acquisition of Imperial Political Structures according to Wikipedia: i.) As a territorial empire of direct conquest and control with force. ii.) Hegemonic empire of indirect conquest and control with power.
Now traditionally, empires are made up of multi-ethnic nationalities being ruled under one dominant authority. And considering the fact that in either definitions Empires are acquired through some means of conquest, I think that there’s an assumption to be made here. And one that makes a great deal of sense if I might add.
Empires come about through conquest in one way or another. Conquest is usually considered something bad. Actually, scratch that. Conquest is usually implied as being evil. Now, I know what you’re thinking. ‘We’re talking about empires that practically worships demons’ or ‘We mean empires that are Evil in the stereotypical sense’ and yes I know that!
But just think for a moment dear reader. Push that brain which you’ve neglected all this time to do some work will you? An empire is to be the most likely candidate to be considered an evil political entity out of all existing political systems. I mean, if Senator Palpatine ruled over a democracy during the original Star Wars Trilogy, he wouldn’t really be that menacing. Sure, you could say that maybe if he ruled a fradulent democracy, but that just isn’t as scary as empire.
Empire. That word already has you fearing that Stormtroopers are going to raid your homes the second that you utter it.
There’s just something about absolute power that makes it usually scarier than fear of a tyrannical democracy. With that notion of absolutism comes an element of unpredictability, as the state would be centered around just one individual. One individual that isn’t supervised by anyone else. One individual that could be insane and not monitored by anyone else. And if you’re still not convinced, then answer me this question. What is more likely to be the case, that a King that rules over only people of his nationality is evil, or that an emperor that has conquered various peoples is bound to be evil?
I mean, honestly, it’s a no-brainer! I get that people want to see more evil kingdoms and duchies, but at the same time you need to understand where the writer is coming from. Making the Empire evil only makes sense. There really is a higher chance that an Emperor is more likely to eat puppies for breakfast than for a king to do the same thing!
But who knows, maybe I’m just the only crazy bastard that actually wants any of these changes. Maybe I’m just like those old people that complain about modern music while putting the music of their generation on a pedestal. Either way, my friends, don’t be afraid to put Evil Empires in your story just because people say that it’s cliche. And as always, keep writing.