Ten Ways to Keep Authorities Out of Your Plot

Stories need problems to solve and heroes to solve them, which sounds simple enough at first. But then you realize that in most settings, there are authorities whose job is to stop these problems. They might be police officers, teachers at a magic school, or the royal space fleet, but they all present the same problem: it’s boring if they solve the problem instead of the hero. Even making your hero part of the police or magical faculty doesn’t solve this, as they always have the option of calling in reinforcements when the going gets tough.

It feels extremely contrived if the authorities just stand by and do nothing, so it might seem like you’re trapped between two bad options. Fortunately, we storytellers can be wily when it suits our purposes, and there are a whole host of ways you can keep the authorities from being a problem in your story.

1. The Authorities Are the Villains

Leia's ship being pulled into the Star Destroyer's docking bay.

You know who doesn’t usually save the day? Villains. You know who we’re worried might save the day? The authorities. Presto change-o, now they’re the same thing! The evil authorities certainly aren’t going to save the day from themselves, now are they? Even if your heroes aren’t battling the authorities in every scene, being on the most-wanted list will still keep them from calling the police for help.

You might recognize this as the strategy employed by Star Wars, The Hunger Games, Mistborn, and Star Wars. All of these stories involve rebelling against the authorities in one form or another, which is where they derive the majority of their conflict. This is a great premise for a story, as it not only protects your plot from being solved by anyone but the heroes, but it also ensures you have plenty of conflict against a formidable enemy.

However, there are drawbacks to this strategy too, namely that it’s an all-in move. Rebelling against the government isn’t a part-time job, so only use this strategy if you’re fully committed. At the same time, revolution stories can often get into morally tricky situations that might bog down the story if you aren’t prepared for them.

Star Wars keeps most of its battles to conveniently civilian-free wildernesses, but it’ll be hard to ignore the likelihood of innocent casualties if your freedom fighters start a gunfight in the middle of downtown. It gets even more complicated when your heroes win, as now they have to replace the government they overthrew. Still, none of these challenges are insurmountable, and this is a great option, if you’re ready for it.

2. There Are No Authorities

Max and Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road

It’s so frustrating when the authorities muck up your plot – don’t you sometimes wish they just weren’t around? Surprise, your wish is my command, or at least it’s your worldbuilding’s command. That’s right: if you build the right kind of setting, you won’t need to deal with the authorities at all.

Your best option for this is to craft a world that’s made up mostly of small, scattered communities without any central leadership. The whole world can be like this, or just a part of it, depending on your needs. At most, each town might have its own militia, but none of them would have much reach or power. That way, your villain can easily skip from town to town, forcing the good guys to follow a trail of crimes. Or your villain might have conquest on their mind, looking to forge these lonely villages into a brutal empire. Either way, only your heroes can save the day.

Post-apocalyptic settings lend themselves particularly well to this approach as we see with titles like Fallout and Mad Max. In the film Fury Road, Furiosa can’t call the police on the warlord Immortan Joe because there’s no government around anymore, so she has to take matters into her own hands. High-fantasy settings also work quite well here, as fractious feudal lords are unable to extend control beyond their own tiny fiefdoms.

The main drawback is that this option doesn’t work well for technologically advanced settings. It’s just hard to maintain societal infrastructure without strong central authority. Even a cyberpunk dystopia of corporate objectivism needs some kind of shared control, to keep the broadband flowing if nothing else.

3. The Authorities Are Jerks

Black Lighting and his daughter, both in costume.

A sad truth about authority is that those who have it don’t always use it responsibly. That’s a serious problem in real life, but in fiction, it’s a major boon. If going full rebellion doesn’t work for your story, then perhaps the authorities could just be a moderate nuisance instead, not someone to count on in a crisis.

This is where the cyberpunk dystopia really shines. Corporate enforcers care quite a bit about crushing organized labor, but stopping a serial killer? Maybe they’ll get to it eventually. Plus, the heroes probably have more than a few infractions to their names, loose-cannon troublemakers that they are.

Cyberpunk not your cup of tea? Don’t worry, this approach can fit in just about any setting, so long as you don’t want the authorities to be benevolent. The king’s knights care a lot more about glory on the battlefield than they do about justice, and the space inquisitors are too obsessed with rooting out heresy to deal with an actual invasion. You can even use this premise in a modern setting, as we see with shows like Black Lightning, where part of the premise is that the police can’t be trusted to protect Black neighborhoods. Of course, that’s a highly sensitive subject, so I advise extreme caution before taking it on.

The only setting that doesn’t go well with this approach is the magic school story, at least when it’s played straight. Magic schools rely heavily on wish fulfillment, so the school usually needs to be somewhere the audience would want to attend. That’s hard to do if all the teachers are mean and incompetent.* It’s also important to keep the conflict’s scale in mind, regardless of genre. Even the most apathetic police force will act out of self-preservation, so they’d have a vested interest in stopping the city from being destroyed.

4. There’s No Time to Call the Authorities

The heavily armed cast of Ready or Not

When considering how to keep the authorities from ruining our conflicts, we tend to imagine the long-term. That’s perfectly reasonable, as most novels and TV shows take place over an extended period, but not every story has to be told that way. If your time frame is short enough, you might not need to consider the authorities at all.

This approach is a staple of horror films, where the slasher arrives in the scene, murders a bunch of teenagers, and is either stopped or flees before the police can arrive. Whatever genre you’re in, you’ll need a conflict that both escalates and resolves quickly; otherwise the whole thing falls apart. Maybe your entire story is one fight scene, or it’s about a single engineer who has to fix the engines before they blow.

Once you have the shortened time frame figured out, you’ll still need to consider why the heroes don’t call for help, especially in a modern setting where most people carry a smartphone. Fortunately, a brief plot makes this more feasible. The comedy-horror film Ready or Not takes place over a single night, and in that context it’s believable that a few signal jammers and snipped phone lines are enough to keep the protagonist from contacting the police. A longer story would lose that benefit, as at the very least, someone would have noticed she was missing.

In most cases, a shorter time frame means you’ll be working with a shorter story. While it’s possible to write an entire novel that takes place in one day, it’s a real challenge. Long sections of text imply the passage of time, even if less than a minute has gone by in the story. That’s why this method is easiest to employ in short stories and films.

5. The Authorities Are Underpowered

A poster for Captain Marvel, showing Fury and Danvers.

Most heroes are special people, but it turns out that if you really crank up that specialness, you can use it to explain why only they and no one else can solve a problem. If the power levels in your story are skewed enough, no one in the audience will even ask why the authorities aren’t stepping in.

This method shows up most often in the superhero genre, where it’s a natural fit, since the whole point of superheroes is that they’re more powerful than anyone else. When Captain Marvel crashes on Earth to fight Skrulls, even the elite SHIELD admits they can’t be much help here.* Regular humans simply aren’t powerful enough to address this kind of problem, so the best option for them is to stay out of the way and let the living gods handle it.

You can use underpowered authorities in any setting with sufficiently powerful abilities. In fantasy, supernatural powers can easily give your hero the edge, whether they come in the form of magic spells or enhanced strength. In scifi, your hero might be the only one with the expensive or dangerous cybernetic implants needed to take down the villain. In space fantasy, you can do both!

The main risk with this approach is making sure your character actually has the power to make it believable. A lot of superheroes talk a big game but aren’t any more dangerous than a human with a gun. At the same time, if the authorities are at all competent, they’ll try to get their hands on some superpowers of their own, so you’ll need to account for that as the story goes on.

6. The Authorities Are Spread Thin

A swordsmouse from Mouse Guard.

So far, we’ve looked at making the authorities either somewhat malevolent or straight-up villainous, but what if I told you there was another way? That’s right: you can actually keep the authorities in your setting both benevolent and competent, so long as you give them a job that’s too big for their numbers.

My favorite example of this method in action is Mouse Guard,* which has a relatively small group of mice tasked with patrolling an enormous area. At least, it’s enormous by mouse standards. That means every patrol of guardsmice is on its own, short of a full-blown war. If the patrol runs into something it can’t handle, backup is days away at best.

As you may have guessed from the Mouse Guard example, this premise works really well for stories where the heroes are part of the authority themselves. It gives them an inherent responsibility to help, which is a great motivation, but denies them easy reinforcements. That’s a super sympathetic situation, and it’s likely to generate attachment from the audience.

While you can theoretically do this in any type of setting, it works best in worlds that have relatively slow travel. Even an overstretched police force can quickly send the heroes reinforcements if everyone can teleport. That doesn’t mean your setting has to be low tech, just that travel times have to be long. A space-opera setting where it takes weeks to travel between stars will work well.

7. The Authorities Are Elsewhere

Harry and Ron looking on in awe as Hermione points her wand.

Look, all of these fancy worldbuilding strategies and complicated plotting schemes are great, but sometimes you need something simpler. Sometimes you just need the authorities to not be there anymore so you can get on with your story. Good news, you can absolutely do that! At least, sometimes you can do that.

A little-known cult classic you may have read called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a by-the-numbers example of how to do this. The story features our child-heroes safe and sound* under the care of their teachers at magic school. They don’t have to worry about the big bad, because Headmaster Dumbledore is there to protect them. But then Dumbledore is called away, oh no! Now the kids have to defeat the villain themselves.

The main advantage to this method is that it can be combined with most plots, provided that there are few enough people in authority that it’s plausible for them to all go away for a while. Even Harry Potter stumbles here, as the other teachers are still around. To cover this, the book has to invent the excuse that only Dumbledore would have believed that there was a threat. I guess one of his magic powers is being easily convinced by children.

The big drawback to this approach is it quickly outstays its welcome. In my experience, most stories can only use it once before it starts to feel contrived, no matter how logical the explanations are. It’s possible you might be able to get away with a second or third time, but I don’t recommend trying.

8. The Authorities Have Been Tricked

We all get taken in sometimes, usually by links claiming to have one weird trick, and the same thing can happen to the authorities in your setting. If they’ve been convinced there isn’t a problem, they won’t intervene, now will they?

In comedy stories, this can happen through a series of unlikely coincidences. The Home Alone series is (in)famous for this, as the police are constantly arriving just in time to miss the villains, and they can never seem to find poor Kevin McCallister to get a statement. Home Alone is meant to be funny, so these wacky antics fit right in.

Besides missing the problem by coincidence, it’s also possible for the authorities to have a simple misunderstanding, like mistaking a murder for a suicide. However, if you don’t want the authorities to seem really incompetent, they shouldn’t constantly miss or mislabel problems. These explanations work best if you only need to use them once.

In more serious stories or for repeated issues, you’ll want a clever villain who intentionally tricks the authorities by laying false trails and obfuscating the real plan. If the villain is your big bad, you could stretch that out for a while. However, if any villain can do it, that will still make the authorities look pretty gullible.

9. The Authorities Can’t See the Problem

Buffy holding a stake.

Whew, I’m starting to run low on ideas. What if the conflict is… invisible? Ah ha, that’s perfect. The authorities can’t solve a problem if they can’t see it. I’m a genius!

Seriously, this is actually a viable strategy in the right context. In most cases, it requires a masquerade setting, where the supernatural exists but most humans don’t know about it. Shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Supernatural exploit this model to the hilt. They have demons and monsters running all over the place, sometimes in broad daylight, but the police won’t do anything about it because no one knows that magic exists.

The advantage of this method is that it covers a wide variety of situations. If your heroes are part of a very small group that knows about magic, then you can justify not only a lack of police interference, but also people going outside at night en masse to be attacked by vampires. Or you can go for a smaller scale and tell a story with a child hero who can’t ask their parents for help because the monsters are invisible to adults.

However, the cost of this strategy is high indeed: you need a masquerade. Masquerades are so complicated and difficult that we’ve written two articles about them, and we’ll probably write more in the future. So in most cases, you’re exchanging one difficulty for another. At the same time, if your magical society is advanced enough to have its own authority, then you’re back at square one.

10. Your Hero Is the Authority

King T'Challa in his throne room.

If you can’t beat them, join them. In this final entry, we don’t try to fight the authorities anymore. Instead, we become the authorities! At least, our heroes do. That’s basically the same thing, right?

This technique gives us characters who are powerful enough that there’s no one they can easily ask for help. Ned Stark is at the top of his particular power structure; even the king is more or less his equal. Admiral Adama leads all that’s left of the human military – no one’s coming to help him. When T’Challa is challenged for the throne of Wakanda, there’s no one he can turn to because he’s already the most powerful character on the block. Well, he could probably ask the other MCU heroes, but Black Panther isn’t a team-up movie, so they don’t exist!

Instead of asking for help, your hero is now the one that others come to when they’re in need. This means your conflict needs to be bigger, stronger, faster than before! Or at least it has to be of a grander scale. It’s very unlikely the leader of Vampire Hunting Inc. will be investigating a single blood sucker. Instead, they’ll be dealing with the politics and economics of running a vampire hunting business, trying to get the best deal on bulk stakes and garlic.

Heroes like this have a lot of power, so they’ll need to face powerful foes indeed. They fit best with tales of revolution and epic political drama, of invasion and the fall of empires. If that’s the kind of story you want to tell, then this is the perfect option for you, and you won’t have to worry about the authorities stealing your hero’s spotlight again.

Every entry on this list has pros and cons. Most work better in some stories than in others, so you’ll need to decide which one is best suited to your work. You can combine them too! Maybe your authorities start off unable to see the monsters, but later on the masquerade is lifted, and then the police are simply outclassed by the horrors pouring through cracks in the dimensional walls. Maybe your setting starts out with no authority at all, but as the story goes on, your heroes build a network of overstretched peacekeepers. What matters is that you plan ahead and make sure only your heroes can solve the problems you put before them.

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  1. Adam Reynolds

    This is a really cool article, one of the more interesting food for thought ones lately, as this problem has been bothering me for awhile.

    #9 also has an interesting variation in the espionage genre, that of conspiracy enemies that a small group fights because they have knowledge that few outsiders do. It has most of the same problems as the masquerade without magic.

    One particular version that bugs me is prominent on a series like Star Trek, in which they supposedly have a large crew that is never able to help them solve problems. A variation on #6 is probably the best approach, in which the ships simply have smaller and more elite crews. They would also have to have smaller ships for this to be plausible, but that is also probably good most of the time for the same reason. If they face a bigger threat they can have more supporting ships.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! And yes, the first problem I generally run into when running a Star Trek RPG is that the characters realize they have several hundred red-shirts with phaser rifles at their command. I usually solve the problem by giving them a very small ship, like you suggested, or specifically giving them problems that depend on them being leaders in order to solve.

  2. Jeppsson

    I’m doing no 6 in space now! Any back-up isn’t only weeks away, but literally YEARS away, so could just as well be non-existent (bc no fancy methods for space travel).

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Yeah, that’s a good way to go, use the vastness of space to your advantage!

    • Leon

      I ran into a problem with this approach; if there is money to be made in space then somebody on earth is making a fortune through all of the spacers who are out there doing the work – this will be through finance companies, manufacturing of ships, tools and plant, or simply tax.
      This means that the authorities have an interest in making life as easy for the spacers as possible. It’s logical that there would be one or two elite Problem Solvers on as many ships as feasible, so when trouble does happen, the industrial supply chain will gradually bring in reinforcements.
      Also, if your tech can break the light barrier, the authorities will probably have the means to send their elite Problem Solvers to most places in a reasonable time. If you the tech cant break the light barrier, then the limitation on speed of travel for a person is how much acceleration the weakest person on the ship can handle (if it’s the wild west up there, then they will probably be small children), this isn’t a problem for machines so drone ships (already slingshoting around celestial bodies at phenomenal speeds) could deliver sufficient fire power to the space cops very quickly.

      This is still #6 but only until the arrival of the next ship carrying a Problem Solver. If you make the Problem Solver the protagonist then it’s #10. Alternatively the #6 protagonist could be in contact with the Problem Solver via radio so they the protagonist could do the leg work while the Problem solver gets him the best information that they can then when/if the Problem Solver arrives, it would become a bit of #10 as well.

      Another thing to consider is, if the authorities don’t care about the colonies, then the colonists will have the freedom to deal with their problems any way they see fit which means skilled engineers, with lots of resources, the ability to trade for items and materials that they cant get or manufacture (you need a planet with cool air to manufacture most things), unfettered by laws, with no restraints, so #6 could easily become #5 or #10.
      Remember, there has to be a good reason to be out there.

      • Jeppsson

        Sure, the more advanced your space civilization, the more this comes up.

        My story is about the first manned space mission in a very long time, and the first manned deep space mission ever (for in-universe reasons that I won’t go through in a post, since that would be LOTS of text). Picture a spaceship which isn’t far beyond anything we could build today in the real world, it’s the ONLY spaceship there is (because, well, they’re hard and resource-intensive to build – as in the real world, you can’t just whip up as many as you feel like), and it’s heading towards the orbit of Saturn.
        That doesn’t sound far in sci-fi terms – we’re still in the same solar system! – but once again, with tech similar to the real world’s, it’s a SUPER long distance. You can still communicate with Earth (like, sending messages back and forth, since after a while there’s way too much timelag to have a normal conversation), but no one can come out there.

        Even in your more advanced setting, though, there can still be limits to acceleration and how fast help can arrive that has to do with fuel and propulsion methods, not just how much G people can tolerate. Real-world rockets are capable of a lot of acceleration, but only for a very brief period of time, since they gobble up homongus amounts of fuel. Ion drives can accelerate for long time periods, but their acceleration is very weak. So there could be simple tech-related limits to how fast help can arrive, even in a setting that’s more advanced than mine.

        • Leon

          The nature of the limitations isn’t at all important. My point was that if there are people living and working out in space there will pro ably be steady traffic and the authorities would station their problem solvers with that steady traffic rather than than at a centralised base.

          Whats the antagonost(ic force) in your story, spies, sabotage salty aliens, elder gods, classical gods, space zombies, jilted lover?

          • Jeppsson

            Ok, I get it, and you’re right.

            So my series has both sci-fi and fantasy elements. This is the one thing I did in complete violation of the rules laid down by my Mythcreants masters! There are reasons for this mix in my life, but actually not any in-universe reasons… My book series simply takes place in a universe where people gradually invent more tech that we don’t have at present time in the real world (the tech isn’t that far out, though, by sci-fi standards), and where people also live under a constant threat from demons.

            Demons have a range of powers that humans don’t have. Even the simplest ones are absolutely invulnerable to physical attacks, and can pass through walls and any other material obstacle. The more intelligent ones usually have other powers too.
            The only way to fight them is by magic, so the small crew are all mages. Human mages, though, can’t really do anything BESIDES channeling magical force into killing demons. Magic is NOT an all-purpose thing for humans.

            So the antagonist is basically a really powerful demon who, for various reasons, has developed an obsession with the MC. He can just pop up there, no problem, it’s from a human perspective the distances are enormous.

          • Leon

            Kinda like 2001 meets Event Horizon?
            Sounds awesome.

          • Jeppsson

            Thanks Leon! Big fan of both.

    • Adam

      #6 also reminds me of the Warhammer 40k universe, wherein long-distance travel involves traveling through hell (warpspace). Nobody really wants to do it if they don’t have to, so The Authorities Are Spread Thin.

      • Erynus

        Also, the distances are vast, all of them. It helps nothing if you can get to Saturn in minutes when you then need to spend days searching for a tiny weenie spaceship “somewhere near Saturn”.
        Or if you are on a boat in the middle of the ocean, you can know your aproximate position, but coast guard need to get there and then find you.

  3. Cay Reet

    I’m currently proofreading a book for release which is a mixture, I think, between 9 and 10.

    There’s no official authorities who would step in, because the world at large doesn’t know vampires (and zombies, revenants, and mummies) do exist (there’s never that many of them and the vampires have no interest in outing themselves). The people who deal with that are an order of hunters (and assorted helpers) which has existed for about 300 to 400 years.

    My MC is part of the order and, through things outside of her control, gets promoted from ‘future background worker’ to ‘leader’ during the story. So in the end, she and her hunters have to go up against an extremely dangerous and powerful vampire and his army of revenants without the military or the police force to help them.

  4. Kenneth Mackay

    How about – ‘The Authorities have Already been Defeated’.

    They’ve attempted to deal with the threat by conventional means and been killed/captured/driven off/helplessly disorganised/tricked/whatever – leaving our heroes with their unconventional approach/special abilities/knowledge of the villain’s secret weakness as the last-ditch chance to prevent the villainous plot succeeding…!

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That would be an extension of #5 in my book. In most cases, if the villain is strong enough to defeat the authorities but not the protagonist, that implies the authorities are somewhat underpowered.

  5. Dave L

    A variation on 1 or 8:
    The authorities think you’re the criminal. Now you must solve the crime and prove your innocence while dodging the cops

    • SunlessNick

      That’s probably worth turning into an 11: “The authorities are after you.” You might be a criminal, or they might just think you are. That doesn’t depend on them being villains, jerks, or tricked. (Maybe a group of bank robbers accidentally release a demon from a trap while looting a vault, and decide that’s something they really ought to fix – but the police are still after them, for perfectly legitimate reasons).

  6. Gray-Hand

    Another one which is similar but not quite the same as authorities as antagonists or jerks is where the protagonist is trying to cover their ass in some way.

    They might be a cop on the hunt for a bank robber that they let go one time. Or they might be an engineer working to stop the reactor from blowing as a result of their earlier negligence.

    From a storytelling perspective, it helps dial up the tension, but probably makes the protagonist less sympathetic so caution is advised.

    • Koeleria

      You could make the protagonist more sympathetic by having them covering someone else’s ass. Though this could make them look dumb. But you could deal with that by having them thinking they are doing a minor favor only for it to snowball into a major problem that they are now implicated in.

      • Gray-Hand

        Actually, thinking about it – keeping the selfishness in there is good as allows for character development, turning point etc.

        • Cay Reet

          That can work, if you’re writing it right.

  7. Koeleria

    To elaborate on #6: Authorities spread thin.

    Your hero’s problem just has to look less important to the authorities than the other problems the authorities are dealing with. But still be super important to the hero.

    For example, the hero’s bike is stolen. The authorities aren’t going to search for it, they have murders and bank robberies to solve. But the hero needs their bike to get to work or they won’t be able to pay the rent. Or the bike is the only memento of a lost friend, and losing the bike feels like losing the friend all over again. They begin to investigate on their own. By the time the hero encounters something the authorities would prioritize there is no time to convince the authorities / the hero’s credibility is shot / the bike thieves are holding his cat hostage / etc…

    Or the threat the hero is facing is subtle but creepy. The hero has reason to be scared, but the threat hasn’t actually done anything they can be arrested for yet. The authorities are busy dealing with people who have already committed clear crimes. They don’t have the resources to guard someone against a threat that might turn out to be nothing. This is usually about stalkers, but it could also be about extortion, or pressure from an evil organization.

  8. Pearl Fields

    THANK YOU!!!!

  9. Humanmale

    I’ve recently written a story where I partially sidestep the issue by having my MC call in the authorities to help deal with the bad guys.
    Just because the authorities are there taking care of most of the mooks doesn’t stop the MC from getting in on the action. It works because the authorities’ motivation (stopping terrorists) and the MC’s motivation (rescuing friends) don’t quite line up.
    The authorities don’t have to be evil, absent or incompetent, they might simply have different priorities, possibly entirely reasonably so.

  10. Makhno

    Variation on 1: the authorities are not collectively evil, but have been so thoroughly infiltrated that the heroes cannot afford to trust them.

  11. Brigitta M.

    Depending on the world, someone in a position of authority could solve smaller (or relatively smaller) cases. For example, in my WiP, which takes place in the afterlife, most of the missing are those who have a ton of Marks…so no one questions that they’re gone…but when a healer (who is virtually without Marks) vanishes, my FMC steps up to solve the case which then leads to other cases where Mark-less people have vanished for one reason or another.

    Granted, eventually, it leads to a larger police force…but in the beginning it’s non-existant (so 2 leading into 10, as it were).


  12. Richard

    #11. The Authorities are constrained by Rules of Engagement.

    The bad guy hasn’t done anything that the authorities consider a crime. The army cannot mobilize unless ordered to do so by the government. There’s been no command calling up the militia….

    You get the idea. As much as they’d like to intervene on behalf of the hero, their rules and regulations seriously restrict what they are allowed to do.

    • Bellis

      That can definitely work, but I’d be worried about the implications. It could easily send the message that police/army should not be “held back” by civilian (democratic) control and that division of powers is a bad idea, that instead the ones who carry out laws with guns in their hands should also be the ones who decide what’s right and what’s wrong.

      I don’t think this is necessarily the message you’d send when you make constraints on law enforcement/military the problem, but it’s worth considering.

      I could see it working well in a scenario where the world is changing. Maybe there are no laws and regulations on how to deal with supernatural or alien or high-tech threats because those are totally new and surprising?

      Another way to go with this is to merge it wirth #1 (The Authorities are the Villains) if the people making the constraints are evil or too incompetent to be trusted with their power. Because if they’re not part of “the authorities”, the government, laws, regulations and police/military officers will blur together as “the authorities” from the viewpoint of the characters.

    • Bess Marvin

      I saw that as the approach for the Percy Jackson series. The gods could help the heroes solve most problems instantly, but are magically forbidden to interfere in the lives of their own demi-god children. So you either have to get the heroes to ask other gods for help and give them a good reason to do so, or get the godly parent to help them indirectly via messenger or magical item. And sometimes a god has his/her own selfish motivations for helping the heroes that comes back to bite the heroes later.

  13. Robert Billing

    I have a completely different take on this, which i think helps the stories.

    I’ll have to start with a little background. My “Arcturian Confederation” grew from a scientific expedition that was supposed to take centuries with the crew in suspended animation. In fact they made a major discovery, which gave them faster than light travel. They found a suitable planet and established a colony. A few years later Arcturian ships have established services which take days instead of centuries to travel between the human colonised planets.

    However these people are scientists, and instead of politics they have mathematically modelled human society, and by controlling interstellar travel have nudged the human race into a sort of utopia. War, famine, epidemic and terrorist are all words that have fallen out of use. If a planetary government attempts genocide or a revolutionary cell takes hostages then in less time than it takes them to drive across country they will be facing a very heavy Arcturian intervention.

    This utopia depends on Arcturus hanging on to the FTL monopoly. So far they have managed five centuries, for a very simple reason. To steal the technology of FTL you would have to get to the St Barbara spaceyards. To get there you need FTL.

    If anyone did manage to break the monopoly they would become very rich, but interplanetary war would be possible.

    Now the stage is set. Space Fleet have spent five centuries training for wars that never came. It has become old and inflexible, endlessly maintaining an unchanging level of technology. Against them are two conspirators, father and son, who believe that they can defeat Arcturian security.

    Comes the hour, comes the woman. Onto this stage steps Jane Gould. Small, seemingly fragile, torn apart by personal tragedy yet with a core of steel, she alone can save Arcturus from itself.

    Now we come to the point. Mercian by birth she gives up her planetary citizenship to become naturalised Arcturian and join Space Fleet. Young, determined and prepared to come up with outrageously creative interpretations of the regulations, she alone can defeat the conspiracy.

    Space Fleet cannot cope with the situation, it’s so far outside the manuals, and requires such quick thinking that only Jane’s left-field approach can succeed.

    This gives some delightful plot tension. The crusty old spaceship captains are horrified by Jane’s approach, but would do anything for the intelligent, courageous young woman who has appeared among them.

    This is the scene after Jane’s spectacular return from a brush with the conspirators:

    (Captain) ‘The surgeon got some food into her, and put her to bed, and she’s still sleeping it off. She’ll bounce, as usual. Strictly, one or other of us ought to give her the standard wigging about Space Fleet regulations, she should have pulled out as soon as she knew Cole had enough information to nail her, and weapon safety rules explicitly forbid improvised modifications to energy weapons, but I really don’t think there’s much point.’
    (Rear Admiral) ‘When did she do it?’
    ‘The night before, so that she could put her bag down at the dance.’
    ‘What? Are you telling me…?’
    ‘…that she danced the night away with a primed emitter on a bit of string down the front of her dress. Yes.’
    ‘Good grief! What’s happening to Space Fleet?’ Spence sounded tired.
    ‘Basically, she is. Nothing is ever going to be quite the same again.’ He picked up his cup and sipped coffee thoughtfully.
    ‘What I really called for, is to have a word with you about what we’re going to tell the PGA. We have to explain why twenty brand new Kelso reactors dropped off line in the night.’
    ‘To say nothing of the quarter-mile smoking trench where their cable used to be, the vaporised satellite, the high purity working fluid now sloshing around as mud in the bottom of the condenser pits and the gap melted in the guardrails.’
    ‘Congratulations, you’ve just met Jane,’ suggested Spence.
    ‘I don’t think that would go down too well, but they ought to know what Kelso was trying to do, or it won’t make sense.’

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