Understand the Social Structures Inside Your Novel

Gathering Intelligence in the CIA and DIA
November 15, 2016
The CIA Museum
December 15, 2016

Understand the Social Structures Inside Your Novel

Social structure is one of the subtopics that a cultural anthropologist, like Alexandra Hamlet, studies. It is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the internal institutionalized relationships built up by persons living within a group (such as a family or community) especially with regard to the hierarchical organization of status and to the rules and principles regulating behavior.” As an author, you can utilize the social structure that surrounds your character to make him easier to relate to. For an example, we can look at how Alexandra Hamlet uses the social structure inside the CIA to make Eric Brent a solid, realistic character.

In The Right Guard we see Eric Brent interact differently with the agents he comes across while trying to find the weapons and ammunition that have been stolen. The social structure inside the CIA would include the hierarchy of agents to special agents to directors and how different agencies within the Intelligence Community interact with each other. Brent’s decision to act differently toward the agents reflects his position in the CIA compared to the other agents. Doing research into the social structure of your character’s life allows you to show the reader what’s going on instead of telling them. By building a social structure for your character and knowing where he stands among the other characters you can paint a picture of the life of your character from day to day that the reader can see in their mind’s eye.

Eric Brent worked as an agent for the CIA, which is part a larger social structure that works alongside other intelligence gathering communities to bring the best intelligence to the people who make the decisions about foreign and domestic relations. If your character’s work or hobbies are part of their own, larger hierarchy it is important to make sure you understand what that is. For example, Eric Brent communicates differently with agents from other agencies in the Intelligence Community because their particular agency would rank differently in the overarching social structure of the Intelligence Community.

Make sure to do your research into what the social structure that surrounds you character may look like when you begin your own novel, it brings reality and scope to the novel and makes your characters more than just cardboard cutouts.

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