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Old 12-19-2012, 07:27 AM   #1
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Diplomacy!

So, a large portion of a project I've been working on involves international diplomacy. The opening chapter involves a scene of storming an embassy.


I was wondering if there's any sources on diplomacy from a bit earlier in history? Like Roman Empire/China/Middle Ages kind of stuff I can look at? Well known incidents, maybe?


In general, do people think diplomatic issues could make for an interesting fantasy story?

Does anybody have some recommendations for good fantasy involving diplomatic issues heavily?
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Old 12-19-2012, 07:51 AM   #2
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The Empire trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts is the first thing that comes to my mind.

As far as whether politics/diplomacy could make an interesting story... yes, but I think it needs to be the story of Character X, not the story of Major Diplomatic Incident Y.
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Old 12-19-2012, 08:59 AM   #3
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I would be perfectly happy to read the story of Major Diplomatic Incident Y. Diplomacy and politics generally make stories more interesting in my opinion.

The only recommendation off the top of my head is Guy Gavriel Kay.
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Old 12-19-2012, 09:25 AM   #4
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Not fantasy, but sci-fi. The Foudation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, at least the first two, though, deals about and up-and-coming interstellar federation trying to grow and face off the decaying Galactic Empire.
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Old 12-19-2012, 10:58 AM   #5
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Any topic can be made interesting with good writing

I guess you could say that "Sharps" by K J Parker features diplomacy pretty heavily, though the main characters aren't diplomats - they're a fencing team sent to a neighbouring country to try and foster friendly relations in the aftermath of a war.

My own novels are tangentially about diplomacy, but again it's shown from the PoV of peripheral characters, not the diplomats themselves.
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Old 12-19-2012, 11:31 AM   #6
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Sharps sounds pretty awesome. While it's on the other end of the war compared to my project, it looks like it could be good reading to get an idea of what's currently available in the genre.
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Old 12-19-2012, 01:25 PM   #7
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It was probably my favourite book of 2012 - low on fantasy, but lovely writing and made me smile more than once
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Old 12-19-2012, 06:35 PM   #8
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You could look at what happened when Julius Caesar--in his pre-getting stabbed in the forum days--was sent off to negotiate a deal with a neighbouring king, and ended up being haunted all his life by allegations that he'd secured the deal in bed.
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Old 12-19-2012, 06:46 PM   #9
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You could look at what happened when Julius Caesar--in his pre-getting stabbed in the forum days--was sent off to negotiate a deal with a neighbouring king, and ended up being haunted all his life by allegations that he'd secured the deal in bed.
You mean the accusation that he was "Queen of Bythnia"?

He must have been pretty diplomatic. Anyway in a pinch he could out-obscene the average 1st cen BC personage -- for example rallying his men with suugestive gestures involving a large pickle. Perhaps a salty cucumber or a large gerkin.
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Old 12-19-2012, 08:08 PM   #10
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I recall one medieval diplomatic incident where an underling of the Kwarazm Shah ambushed a merchant's caravan, killing them and stealing their goods. The merchant was from Mongolia and had been sent by Ghenghis Khan for the express purpose of opening trade relations with the Kwarazm empire. When Ghenghis Khan heard of it he...took a deep breath, and wrote a strongly worded letter to the Kwarazm Shah. The Shah read the letter, then cut off the emissary's head, remarking to the other members of the party that Mongolians were like children. He also forcibly shaved the remainder of the diplomatic party and sent them on their way. When Ghenghis Khan heard of this, he mustered an army of 200,000 men, invaded the kingdom from three directions, massacred the population of the capital city, building a huge pyramid of human heads, and even went so far as to divert a river through the birthplace of the Shah, erasing it from the map. It is estimated that these areas, what is now Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and parts of Khazakhstan, didn't recover their pre-Ghenghis Khan population levels until the 20th century.
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Old 12-19-2012, 08:29 PM   #11
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So, a large portion of a project I've been working on involves international diplomacy. The opening chapter involves a scene of storming an embassy.
"Storming an embassy" isn't exactly diplomatic, though. It's a cause for war.

If you mean traditional diplomacy, the best thing might be to read up on the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), the Congress of Berlin (1878), and the Paris Peace Conference (1919). The careers of Talleyrand, Metternich, Cavour, and especially Bismarck, are worth studying.

My own (self-published) Mercenaries trilogy includes (in volumes 2 and 3) an ambassadorial character, Lord Vardistana, and no fewer than four major diplomatic conferences (none of which involve violence, assassination, poisoning, etc.) Vardistana is one of my favorite characters, and in a way my tribute to the great diplomats of history. (European diplomatic history is one of my fields.) My impression is that diplomacy in many fantasy novels is depicted as the art of lying cleverly and that treaties are often made in order to be broken. I try to show that this is not the case: that honorable men intent on fair dealing can accomplish great things for their countries, and that treaties can be made with the intention of keeping them.
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Old 12-19-2012, 08:32 PM   #12
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I find diplomacy in novels to be interesting--large or small scale doesn't really matter to me. I would recommend checking out The Prince if you haven't already, as well as reading Herodotus on Lycurgus of Sparta and Plato's Republic. They're a bit heavy going, but very useful.
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Old 12-19-2012, 08:56 PM   #13
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Ah yes, Another famous diplomatic exchange:

King Philip of Macedon to the Spartans: "You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city."

Spartans: "IF."

There was a fine line between diplomacy and trash talk in those days.

The word 'laconic' comes from Laconia, the part of Greece where Sparta is located.
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Old 12-19-2012, 09:43 PM   #14
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You mean the accusation that he was "Queen of Bythnia"?
Sounds right. I was too lazy to go look it up. You'd think though that something like that wouldn't raise an eyebrow in the contemporary culture.

One of my favourites is, "Don't wait for the translation! Answer me now!"
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Old 12-20-2012, 02:17 AM   #15
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"Storming an embassy" isn't exactly diplomatic, though. It's a cause for war.

If you mean traditional diplomacy, the best thing might be to read up on the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), the Congress of Berlin (1878), and the Paris Peace Conference (1919). The careers of Talleyrand, Metternich, Cavour, and especially Bismarck, are worth studying.

My own (self-published) Mercenaries trilogy includes (in volumes 2 and 3) an ambassadorial character, Lord Vardistana, and no fewer than four major diplomatic conferences (none of which involve violence, assassination, poisoning, etc.) Vardistana is one of my favorite characters, and in a way my tribute to the great diplomats of history. (European diplomatic history is one of my fields.) My impression is that diplomacy in many fantasy novels is depicted as the art of lying cleverly and that treaties are often made in order to be broken. I try to show that this is not the case: that honorable men intent on fair dealing can accomplish great things for their countries, and that treaties can be made with the intention of keeping them.

The storming of the embassy is not the diplomacy; it's part of a failure and then later a reason for more discussion.

How much of the actual diplomacy will be presented by viewpoint characters as part of the narrative is still up in the air, but either way, it'll be important to the progression of the novel.


Basically, there's a threat of invasion. The country the embassy is in gets scared and wants to break ties with the embassy's home country, which is a powerful empire. There's rioting and the embassy gets stormed. The staff are told not to fight back, but someone there gets scared and massacres the mob doing the storming. The empire can't afford to get in an armed conflict with this country right now, so they have to figure out how to repair the damage in their relationship without threat of force. In the end, the country gets invaded before the situation can be resolved, the empire recalls all it's diplomatic and military enclaves in several foreign territories, and the people left in the embassy have to get out on their own.
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Old 12-20-2012, 03:59 AM   #16
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The Byzantines were awful crafty with diplomacy as an extension of the state's power (or lack of) - there have to be some incidents to mine there. Lavish affairs to impress and overwhelm diplomatic missions, and constant monitoring of all staff and servants.

I read that the agents of one emperor supposedly intercepted a message from an envoy calling for the execution of one of his own generals. 400 names were added to the message and then sent on to its destination, sparking a revolt.
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Old 12-21-2012, 03:40 AM   #17
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Anything can be made the subject of a story, but a lot of topics have inherent dangers. With politics and diplomacy, one danger seems to be talking-head syndrome, where authors insert pages of static dialogue about a diplomatic issue, because they think it sounds impressive and intelligent (Old Republic Trade Law, anyone?).

The second danger is the unintentional howler: Relatively few F/SF writers have ever had anything to do diplomacy or politics, so this can be an automatic violation of the "Write What You Know" rule. Historical anecdotes and readings of The Courtier can't replace a thorough knowledge of the gritty details and character types of diplomatic/political process.

None of this means that it's impossible; only that it will take a fair amount of effort to achieve verisimilitude.

SF author Keith Laumer had a career in the US Foreign Service, and it informed his "Retief" science fiction stories. It's significant that those stories are all satirical.
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Old 12-21-2012, 04:20 AM   #18
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Anything can be made the subject of a story, but a lot of topics have inherent dangers. With politics and diplomacy, one danger seems to be talking-head syndrome, where authors insert pages of static dialogue about a diplomatic issue, because they think it sounds impressive and intelligent (Old Republic Trade Law, anyone?).

The second danger is the unintentional howler: Relatively few F/SF writers have ever had anything to do diplomacy or politics, so this can be an automatic violation of the "Write What You Know" rule. Historical anecdotes and readings of The Courtier can't replace a thorough knowledge of the gritty details and character types of diplomatic/political process.

None of this means that it's impossible; only that it will take a fair amount of effort to achieve verisimilitude.

SF author Keith Laumer had a career in the US Foreign Service, and it informed his "Retief" science fiction stories. It's significant that those stories are all satirical.

A majority of the story will likely not be focusing on diplomats and politicians, so I think there's not too much danger of talking heads.

I am worried a bit about the other issue you brought up, though. Thus the request for recs of politics handled well or badly in fantasy. A large portion of the world-building and research for this story is going to be developing the political background and trying to make it as realistic as possible. Whether I'll succeed or not, I honestly can't say.
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Old 12-21-2012, 07:45 AM   #19
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Thus the request for recs of politics handled well or badly in fantasy. A large portion of the world-building and research for this story is going to be developing the political background and trying to make it as realistic as possible. Whether I'll succeed or not, I honestly can't say.
Politics in fantasy is written by authors who aren't politicians. Why not use real politics in your fantasy instead?
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Old 12-21-2012, 09:49 AM   #20
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Politics in fantasy is written by authors who aren't politicians. Why not use real politics in your fantasy instead?

Perhaps you could give me an example of what you mean?
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Old 12-21-2012, 10:24 AM   #21
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Perhaps you could give me an example of what you mean?
Talk to real members of your country's foreign service. Use their answers to inform your story.

If you don't want modern diplomacy as a model, talk to history professors who specialize in the political history and customs of an era/area you find congenial. (Many universities in the US have media departments that specialize in making professors available to answer questions in their specialties.)

In short, find out how it works outside of the fantasy genre; then use the research that *you* (and no one else) have generated for your story.
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Old 12-21-2012, 11:01 AM   #22
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Talk to real members of your country's foreign service. Use their answers to inform your story.

If you don't want modern diplomacy as a model, talk to history professors who specialize in the political history and customs of an era/area you find congenial. (Many universities in the US have media departments that specialize in making professors available to answer questions in their specialties.)

In short, find out how it works outside of the fantasy genre; then use the research that *you* (and no one else) have generated for your story.


Ah, I see. Definitely part of the plan.
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Originally Posted by Kricket View Post
Is that all I am to you people?! Just the girl with the whip?!
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