Marco Polo – Political Intrigue and Inspiration

Steph_2 copy (2)By Stephanie Stamm

After a couple of experiences of post-binge mental hangovers, I don’t so much binge-watch Netflix these days as engage in serial monogamy. On any given day, I usually watch only one episode—occasionally two—of my current amour, but I watch only that series until I’ve seen every episode.

My most recent Netflix affair has been the Netflix original series Marco Polo (find out more on Netflix or IMDB). Over a period of a week to 10 days, I consumed the first season’s 10 episodes, enthralled by the show’s visual, emotional, and intellectual impact. Set in the time of Kublai Khan’s conquest of southern China, the show is gorgeously presented. The costumes, sets, scenery, cinematography, writing, and acting are all top-notch. And the plot contains so much political and personal intrigue that I could use a second watch to tease out all the tangled threads.

Portrait of Kublai Khan

Watching Marco Polo made me wonder about the difficulty of living in a world where every action is about obtaining or maintaining power—or, alternatively, trying to keep from losing your life. I suppose in some ways we are all involved in power struggles on one or more levels—whether we are trying to gain more control over ourselves or our work, or to rise in our careers. But this political arena, where conquest rules, and everyone looks for weaknesses to use against everyone else, is not the world I inhabit. And a good thing too—I wouldn’t fare well there.

Which is why I sometimes wonder what possessed me to build a certain level of political intrigue into my Light-Bringer series. Perhaps it was a desire to stretch those mental and emotional muscles and then give them a workout. The more relationship-based, emotional scenes come more easily for me. I have to work harder to enter the minds and hearts and motivations of those manipulating the people around them for political gain or power. Marco Polo gives me a window into how others have done it—how the writers took those characters and their history and gave them heart and motivation, and how the cast made those characters live.

As I work on the third volume of my trilogy, I need to delve more deeply into the politics of my world and tease out the longstanding power plays that have shaped it. Like those in Marco Polo, some of my characters have been playing the long game. Now I have to figure out how to call their shots.

What aspects of your work do you struggle with most? What other works/media do you turn to for help or inspiration?


Connect with me:

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I am the author of the New Adult/Young Adult urban fantasy series, The Light-Bringer:




I have also contributed stories (one fictional and one true) to the following volumes:

Undead of Winter Front Only Into the Storm Cover


20 thoughts on “Marco Polo – Political Intrigue and Inspiration

  1. I of course use the Internet for research, and I like to read memoirs of the era I’m writing about. I have watched a few episodes of shows on Netflix. Thanks for sharing. Cher’ley


  2. Well written Stephanie! And I admire your ability to enjoy a show while apparently still mindful of the machinations that made it work. I forget to do that and lose myself in the work, unless it’s bad and throws me back into reality. I struggle with giving my characters hard struggles, since I always want everyone happy! Good blog. Enjoyed.


    1. Thanks, Neva! I don’t get completely out of the story, but I do find myself hopping back and forth–being involved in the story and admiring the craft that went into it. I don’t like to make bad things happen to my characters either really, but I know I have to. 🙂


  3. Enjoyed the post Stephanie. I like the way you meshed movies with writing. I watched a lot of circus movies while writing the Inzared series, and read every book I could get my hands on. I also contacted museums around the world to ask questions and they were all very kind to find the answers for me. I think watching movies, whether fiction or real-life, can definitely help you write scenes in a book, or at least get on the right track.


    1. I agree, Linda. So far, I haven’t had to contact any museums for background information for my books, but I think it’s cool that you did. I bet it was fun steeping yourself in circus information/culture. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.


  4. Sounds like Marco Polo might be similar to Shogun mini-series a numbers of years back. I had a hard time reading the book because the threat level was so high. I don’t think I watched all the episodes because of that.

    I’ve always had a hard time understanding why people deliberately try to hurt others. Of course, we have to give our characters a bad time to make our stories interesting. And we have to have evil villains.

    Great way to get insight into disturbing people.


    1. Yeah, I have a hard time understanding why people deliberately hurt others as well, Kate–unless it’s for revenge or because they’ve been hurt themselves. That, at least, makes sense to me. I don’t remember if I watched all of Shogun or not–though it do sort of remember it. That was a long time ago! 🙂


  5. Stephanie, I have not seen “Marco Polo”, but have heard a lot about it. Your post brings up some interesting thoughts about creativity and how we use what we read and see to enhance our stories. My years working with ‘criminals’ does play a lot into what I write in fiction. My non-fiction is actually harder to write, they are nice people. (Smile)

    Continued success on this series of books. Doris


    1. Thanks, Doris! Funny that you should say it’s harder to write the non-fiction about nice people. I would imagine that work with criminals would make for good fiction ideas.


  6. Talking of “hanging onto power” made me think of the concept in different way than you explored in your column. Older folks, as they struggle with health issues, also fight to keep their independence… perhaps another way of think of it is “hanging onto their power.” Dad’s in the hospital now for a minor heart attack, pneumonia and the flu, and this 87 year old is frustrated with being so helpless and the mercy of everyone else. He has seen his power of independence crumble bit by bit as he has aged.


    1. What a difficult struggle, Mike–and one we all end up witnessing/experiencing at some point. It is so hard to see someone you love lose their independence. And it has to be incredibly frustrating and sad and grief-provoking to be the one losing it. I hope your dad recovers and regains at least some of his independence.


  7. I rarely get around to watching anything on screen but I do tend to enjoy the series that I select. Using the images garnered from them sounds like a great idea but when it comes to writing about things that touch on the political of the era, it’s a tricky one. In my Celtic Fervour Series I was well into book 3 before someone asked me what scene I was currently writing. Answering was difficult and it was only when I broke it down to the nitty-gritty that I realised I actually was talking about the political situation between ancient Roman commanders who were invading northern Britannia of AD 84 (now named my Aberdeenshire area of Scotland). I was thinking I was just recording ‘history’ but actually the tactics I was describing were political.


  8. Intriguing post, Stephanie — thoughtful and insightful. I usually watch shows that help me “tune out” life and since what I write is vastly different than what I watch, I can’t say TV/movies influence my writing. But, if I wrote fiction (ie, suspense, even romance) I could see the parallel. Thanks for a new way (for me) to look at writing ideas/possibilities.


  9. I generally watch comedies or crime shows to give my mind a break. I suck at fiction so these types of shows don’t inspire my writing. I am inspired by a sudden thought that jumps into my mind or a photograph I’ve taken.
    I struggle mostly with making up my mind. Each time I write a new piece I change my mind 2 or 3 times about the subject matter. So I end up with a piece I love and a few others that aren’t complete and probably never will be.


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