Last week I rambled on about religions in worlds. In fact, I spent two posts talking about it. All in one weekend. First about why you need more than one, and then on how to build a religion Fun stuff, when I wasn’t going off on tangents and making little sense and…
Today, I’d like to take a look at another aspect of Worldbuilding. More specifically, at government.
I realize government is not exactly the most… exciting… subject. But it can be exciting, at least when it comes to building one for your world. A government is one of the easiest ways to create tension and conflict in your novel. Whether that be through politics, border disputes, cruel overlords, or even all-out wars.
As a word of warning, there are many ways in which government-fueled conflict can be cliché. The most obvious, perhaps, is the Dystopian Totalitarian government. As Saruman put it: “You know of what I speak.”
Basically, something went wrong and an evil government rises up to oppress the good citizens of wherever. Probably America. Because… ‘merica, I guess. This government is then, through the plot of the novel, opposed by a poorly-equipped (or even highly-equipped, but still outnumbered and with the odds not in their favor) rebel faction that somehow manages to break free of societies' boxes and CRUSH the government’s stranglehold on society.
Because, you know, the government’s economic and foreign policies wouldn’t have brought it down in a year anyway.
(Yes, that was sarcasm… I’ve found very few dystopian with governments that have legitimate economic and foreign policy. These governments would collapse long before the novel started, simply from economic instability or foreign invaders. But that’s a different blog post, hm?)
Another common cliché government is that of the medieval fantasy. It usually follows the plot line of “independent princess [or slovenly prince] is usurped by their evil relative [uncle, brother] and must take back the throne with the help of a random group of rebels they found hiding in the woods”. For one thing, there’s a lot wrong with that cliché. But I’ll bypass most of it to focus on the government side of things.
First, this evil relative takes over the country from their king. This king is generally a very good king. And when the king is suddenly deposed, those under him (read: lords, knights, etc.) form no counter Coup d'état to restore the rightful king/his heir to the throne. Why not? If he was a good king, then why do they let the evil relative take over? It makes less sense than sending in a donkey to buy you a burrito at a pizza place. Sorry, buddy, but you’re not getting the burrito.
Second, this rebel group. They show up out of nowhere [the woods], despite the king being known as a very kind, gentle soul. Case in point.
Now. Enough about that. Instead, here are my five tips to diversify government in your world:
1. Variety is close to… reality. In this day and age, there aren’t very many forms of government. There are democracies, socialist states, and fascist states. Maybe one or two countries don’t fit into one of these categories precisely, but in vague terms; every country has a government like this.
However, there are dozens of kinds of government, most of which have been practice on our earth at one time or another. From monarchy to diarchy to oligarchy to empire to tribes to aristocracies. Here, have a link. That’s not all forms of government, but it’s a nice list.
Not only is it realistic, but it’s refreshing when a novel uses a rarely mentioned form of government. So, why not try a triarchy with a complex feudal caste system instead of a boring old monarchy?
2. Create realistic tension. I’ve read dozens of novels in which two countries are at war. In many, however, there is no apparent reason for the countries to be fighting. They just… are. Or perhaps they’re fighting over a border. That’s realistic, right?
Well, yes. But not when the land they’re fighting over has no intrinsic value. Countries don’t fight over a scrap of land unless it’s worth something.
It’s perfectly fine to have countries fighting or gearing up for it. What is not perfectly fine is when there is no good reason for it.
3. Set the Laws in stone. Take this as a metaphor. Please. Don’t go find a slab of rock and spend the next year carving laws into it.
What do I mean by this? Take some time – an hour, maybe – and sketch out the laws of your country.
For instance, I spent twenty minutes forming a constitution for the Republic of Clenesk way-back-when I was gearing up for my most recent project. Agram Awakens takes place in several countries, none of which have identical governments. It has a triarchy, a monarchical empire, a series of tribes, an oligarchy, a republic, a commonwealth, and two forms of feudal monarchical-aristocracies. I don’t have the laws for all of those governments, but for the important ones, I’ve got at least an idea.
When you have the laws written down, it’s easier to realize what consequences the main character’s actions might have. Stealing the villain’s sword isn’t so easy when the villain is actually a powerful warlord who has decreed all theft be punished by death.
Getting an audience with the king suddenly means a lot of paperwork. A lot of paperwork.
4. Balance Injustice with Justice. I’ve read very few novels in which the government is portrayed as good.
A lot of novels (especially dystopian, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction) spend time railing against the government. Why it’s bad, how it needs to be fixed, etcetera.
But without government (even a broken one), we wouldn’t sleep so safe at night, would we?
I’m a minarchist. I tend to disagree with a lot of things governments do. But that doesn’t mean I think we shouldn’t have one at all. Even I think we need government for something.
When you write, don’t spend all your time talking about how bad the government is. Show a few nobles trying their best to be honorable. Show a few clerks in the dystopian government who slip the poor extra rations, who don’t take bribes.
That “evil” government is made of people. Some are broken; some are “evil”, but not all of them. Some people can be good.
5. Experiment. It’s okay to try a form of government and find out it doesn’t work. Great! That means you get to try another one. The more you try, the more you experiment, the better your chances of finding just the right one.
What about you? What forms of government are in your novel(s)? Leave a comment and share; I’d love to hear about them!