Friday, July 30, 2010

Building Realistic Worlds – Part III

The Influence of Government

Our characters do not live their lives in a vacuum. One thing that influences all inhabitants of any world (including our own) is government in its wide verity of forms and functions. Today, I’d like to discuss the value of this often forgotten aspect of character life as it relate to your fiction.

Some stories center around the politics of government. Dune comes to mind (as it has in previous examples). The political landscape is at the heart of Herbert’s stories. But, most characters in our fiction are not part of the ruling body. They are subjects of it. Even without the character’s direct involvement, the governments that control and lead the masses can profoundly impact the way a character views his world. A lowly thief feels the pinch of hardened constables. South-seas pirates seek the environs of an anarchist hideaway far from the prying eyes of the East India Trading Company. The protagonist wants for something more in life but is held back by his caste/station. The list goes on and on.

Government has two sides, those who support its current form and those who oppose it. Most citizens fall in-between these extremes to varying degrees. It’s up to us as we create our characters and our worlds to consider the political landscape and how this affects our characters motivations.

Each society within the story has a form of government, whether the ruling party or a secret cult. Someone must be in charge, and someone will oppose them. It’s the nature of the beast that government creates conflict – and a perfect opportunity to bring that conflict into your story. Most governments, and those who control or benefit from them, oppose change. Many people who feel trod on by their government reject the ideals and fight back (subtly or openly).

Here I’ve given a list of governmental forms. When creating a society for your story, this may give you a starting point for the complexities that are possible. As an example, for my current WIP, I chose at random, since the main character would not be directly part of the government. I let fate decide the forms of government for each major society in my fantasy story. For one, I even randomly selected two (Matriartical and Magocracy) to create a country controlled by female mages. There are endless possibilities… this is just a starting point and a place to gather ideas.

This list is not all inclusive and the specific forms of government are not mutually exclusive. There are, of course, many subtleties and sub-sects of governmental forms. Often there is cross-over of power where more than one “pure” government is merged with another to create something entirely unique.

I highly encourage you to look further into any of these that interest you. The Internet is full of information! For now:

Click here to explore the list of government possibilities.


  1. I've chosen forms of government for works, where appropriate but, unlike you, I've never left that up to chance/random selection. Just a different method of planning/world creation.

  2. It was an interesting experiment to randomly select the government forms. Not all combinations worked well for me. And, not all of them are exactly as the random decided. For example, the magocracy/matriarchal society I ended up with also has gynarchy tendencies where men are considered second class citizens and sometimes slaves. In addition, the ruler is a woman of advanced years, but her authority comes from a tyrannical overturning of the previous matriarch (tyranny) and is essentially a benevolent dictator (sometimes indicative of fascism).

    So, the point is that there are many different layers within a government and many pieces and parts that can be taken to create something different entirely.

    Would this have worked as well if I had chosen from a list rather than at random? Absolutely. As you said, it’s a different style. I used a random method primarily because I thought it would be fun (and it was), but it’s not the only option.


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