A big hole in your worldbuilding is simple: you don’t explain WHY. WHY are the rebels charging against the government? Why are they triggered? What set them off? Why is your king making this decision? Does he have blackmail against him? Will doing this make him omnipotent. A lot of the why can be answered with the following acronym.
S- Social Structure
I use PERSIA to understand and build my society from the ground up. In this article, I’ll be talking about the world in my manuscript Of Suns and Spirits and how it relates to our first two categories, politics and economics.
First, politics. Politics, some of us hate it, some of us love it, but it’s part of society, so let’s talk about it. First of all, you gotta decide the government of your world/country.
Type of Government
The type of government in your book is one of the most important in your worldbuilding. Yes, we’ve seen the typical monarchy in Throne of Glass, but I find that new governments are interesting and makes your plot unique. An example is the High Court in A Court of Thorns and Roses. It’s an example of an oligarchy that creates a great inner circle of characters and assigns different duties to different people. That’s where I found A Court of Thorns and Roses lacking…we never got to see the actual political changes in Veleris, but in the overall Fae world.
You have to remember…if a character is in a position of power, you shouldn’t neglect their duties. Often, authors like to pin their characters as a prince without giving them princely roles. To really narrow in on some solid world building, you have to keep the characters true to their role. This is why I liked the book Shatter Me. Warner, while actively pitching in the plot, he still cares for his duties and actually works.
Our good ol’ monarchy, seemingly every fantasy writers favorite government type. I think it’s because writing monarchies-at the surface-are quite easy. Plop a king, a queen, a prince, and a princess, surrounded by court officials, and bam…monarchy. In truth, monarchies done well are not easy to manage.
Think about it this way: in an absolute monarchy, the ruler has complete control of the entire kingdom. This includes food, irrigation, manufacturing, agriculture, land disputes, construction projects, war, everything. This can be overwhelming and your character might crack under the pressure.
To construct a healthy monarchy, you need to have three main things: a ruler, their counsel, and their local lords. This is vital for any major government system, but especially for a monarchy. If you want an unhealthy monarchy that’s spiraling to destruction, then have the king do everything for his own gain.
The best way to do this is research. You are not a government official (I mean, unless you are). If you aren’t, you won’t understand the nooks and crooks of politics, why things happen and why societies rise, sustain, or fall.
Oligarchy is a type of government people don’t often use, but is incredibly interesting. Under Oligarchy falls councils, senates, courts, and other small factions of people. What makes each Oligarchy unique is how the members of it are chosen. There’s wealth, familial power, ancestry, education, allies, intelligence, strength, magical abilities–the possibilities are endless! However you decide to split your oligarchy, it’s fresh, innovative, and adds a really nice twist to your book.
Books with Oligarchies: Divergent, A Court of Thorns and Roses
Countries you can research: Russia, China, and Iran.
A bureaucracy is an oligarchy of sorts. Non elected state officials chose the laws and regulations over the country, keeping the citizens mostly out of it. It’s just a subset on an oligarchy that is often used in novels and in history.
Bureaucratic Fiction: Divergent, Fahrenheit 451.
Bureaucracy IRL: China before communism, Gupta Empire, Persian Empire.
This is by far the most polarizing and repressive kind of government. I see this a lot in Sci-Fi and Dystopian books. The future is grim and the government control everything and anything, restricting their people and making them go under horrid trials. This is typically one person (or if it’s an oligarchical dictatorship, multiple head leaders). They often rule with an iron fist and scare their subjects into total submission. Citizens typically get little say in the government.
Don’t forget about military regimes! They are also able to be totalitarian and completely in charge of every aspect of the government.
Fictional Works: 1984, The Autumn of the Patriarch, Shatter Me
Real Word: North Korea, Myanmar (military regime)
The worst form of government yet the best we have, democracy is a crowd favorite that…I don’t see often in Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or Dystopian books. It’s a shame, really, because I see the future as either democratic or socialist. Democracy is the opposite of autocracy. Ideally, people get a full and unlimited say in their government, but in reality, it’s much different.
For example, in the US, democracy is a representative democracy, meaning that we pick the representatives that will make decisions for us, therefor giving US citizens an indirect role in the government. If you want to have an absolute democracy, have your people vote on everything, or as many things as possible. That being said, a fully democratic society is improbable because someone needs to be in charge, but it’s not impossible. I’d like to read a book where someone can pull it off.
There are also factors of democracy and variations in it’s style. Does it have a bipartisan system? A parliament? A court?
Another thing to remember: How do elections look? Is it hostile and separating or calm and unifying? How big is the political divide? What are the running parties? This kind of worldbuilding really spices up your novel and adds something very valuable to it…social conflict, which will be instalment four of this series.
Examples of democracy in books: To Kill a Mockingbird, Shadowhunter Series.
Examples of democracy in real life: USA, Britain, India, and a lot more.
Theocracy is pretty much the easiest one to nail once you’ve got the religion down. Theocracy is when religion/religious figures rule and are completely in charge and rule based on moral tellings. A very commonly known theocracy of the past is Ancient Egypt. If you’re writing a story that is that deep in the past, theocracy is not an unreasonable government to chose.
Also, religions don’t have to existing ones. If your religion is worshipping your ruler (which happens in theocracies because people believe they have a divine right), then that can be their religion. It’s when they match their ruler to God or base all their laws on religious doctrine.
Examples in Fiction: The Handmaid’s Tale, Avatar and the Last Airbender
Examples IRL: Saudi Arabia, any country ruled by Sharia Law
This is a cool idea I’ve never seen outside Lord of the Flies. Nevertheless, the author can play on human nature and what essentially makes up our minds and such.
Fictional: Lord of the Flies
The government your characters grow in affect their views and impacts on the world. In my WIP, because of the dictatorship in Catara, Varona is a born-hard survivalist. She also has a very freedom seeking view on the world and wants to change it for the better while improving her own living condition. In contrast, Elena, her sister, is the simplest. She wants to stay in her bounds and care for her family, not step out of the box and take anymore risks.
Obviously, different characters react differently to their environment, and offering that unique take on how their government affects them adds depth to the impact of your world, which is vital. There are also groups of people that will rile up together to wreak havoc, such as rebel groups. In Ember in the Ashes, the main character joins the resistance to team up against the oppressive regime. Through their eyes, we see many injustices, plans, and plots, all which aid towards building the world
Does your world have a court? A royal seat of advisors? A court is a great way to build the world. Take Victoria Aveyard’s book Red Queen, for example. An amazing way she built her world is through the political tension between all the Houses of the Silvers. She showed treachery and betrayal. It builds this world as hard, unforgiving, and power-hungry, which fits it accurately.
War is a common staple in the worldbuilding realm. It introduces the reader to other societies and a subplot conflict in the novel (or main plot). Having a war is a realistic way to show some hardships of the civilization. Maybe food is running low and so are soldiers. Maybe there are mass riots against the president’s decisions or public approval of a war. It gives the reader a feel of what the society as a whole it. For example, if you write about Sparta, you’ll see excited people training for war, loving it. Then there’s Athens, the art focused one who doesn’t appreciate the art of war that much. War can bring out many things about the two cities. One, how the attitude of the people are (response to conflict, priorities). Two, what is needed for the war, what stays behind (if many men go to war, there would be a lot of women flooding into jobs, which explains why your female MC has a job.) Three, it shows the political conflict and power struggle between other countries. A war is a realistic but sad way to show how the world interacts around them.
So that’s worldbuilding with politics, one of the most interesting and complex things you do while building your world. If you have any questions pertaining to Worldbuilding or suggestions to add to this article/write more about, leave a comment below!