Establishing your fictional government
If you have a society of any kind within your story, chances are there is some form of government. It might be a relatively new group of rebels trying to settle a home, or it might be a millennia-old empire.
Now, if you’re like me, grasping the formation and nuances of politics is really hard. I’m pretty sure I slept through most of my polisci classes in college and I definitely barely scraped by with a C. Unfortunately, even those of us who are polisci-indifferent often have to consider the impact of government within the stories we write.
So after some research and consultation, I have what I hope will be a thorough and helpful post. I try to balance my questions for both fantasy and scifi worlds, so if a question simply doesn’t apply to your world, feel free to skip it.
First, read a brief bit on forms of government. Here’s another focused more on fiction writing. Always a good place to start. Read it? Good. And keep in mind as your begin to formulate your government for your story, that most functioning governments anymore are a combination of two or more systems, not strictly adherent to one. Intro to polisci…check!
(I should mention that I’m not covering anarchy in this post. But this is a solid, exhaustive look at anarchy. Have fun.)
Then, shift your focus to your world. (Forget the real world. It’s lame anyway.)
First: Will your fictional government be corrupt or just?
- If there is a single figurehead or most-powerful entity, what is his/her title?
- How many people make up the ruling body?
- How did those in power rise to power?
- How is power transitioned?
- How is power maintained?
- How balanced or divided is the hierarchy? What aspect determines a person’s placement within the hierarchy? (Money, Family, Education, etc)
- How is the government primarily funded? What does it prioritize in its budget?
- How did the government originally form? Did it grow organically from a tiny village or was it torn away from another country and established by rebels?
- Does smaller, local government exist under the national umbrella? How do they relate to one another? How much power does local government have?
- What is the money system based on? How valuable is the base piece of currency?
- How much of an influence/role does religion have in government?
- How much of a hand in day-to-day affairs does the government have?
- What offices/schools/resources does the government fund or directly control?
- How managed is the education system?
- How important or ubiquitous is literacy?
- How managed is the healthcare system? How physically or monetarily accessible is healthcare?
- How does the ruling person or group address the average citizens?
- What balance is there between freedom and safety?
- How responsible is any given citizen held for the well-being of his neighbor?
- How are citizens kept safe, or kept feeling safe?
- How is food production maintained or overseen?
- How is energy production managed and regulated?
- How are surplus goods handled (saved, exported, destoryed)?
- Are drugs or stimulants regulated? How?
- How is magic managed? How are those possessing magic seen and treated by the government?
- How do different classes, castes, or races feel about they are treated by the government (in relation to other classes, castes, or races)?
- How regulated is exploration and discovery?
- How much of a right does the average citizen have to be informed? Is information free?
- What is the hierarchy of national powers within your world?
- How are the borders managed, if at all?
- How powerful is your nation’s currency throughout the world?
- How is diplomacy handled between nations?
- What are current relationships like? How long have they been that way?
- Do international embassies or some equivalent exist?
- How often to rulers meet between nations?
- How publicized are meetings and general relations between countries?
- Do different nations work together in science, exploration, and discovery? Do they compete?
- How warlike is your nation? Are they going to attempt diplomacy for a long time or jump straight to war?
- How is money treated between nations? How large a factor are imports and exports? Who regulates them?
- How is jurisdiction handled in criminal cases? Who gets the final say?
- How focused is your country on the outside world, if at all?
- What does your country fear the most from other nations? How is that fear handled?
- Plato’s Five Regimes
- Overview of political philosophies
- Interesting piece on foreign policy in ASOIAF.