World Building: Social/Political

Don’t let politics be a turn off when you’re devising your story world.  They don’t have to be the focus of your plot, but fantasy is all about power:  who has it, who wants it, who’s trying to take it away from someone else.

I write traditional fantasy, so I seek social/political models from antiquity and the medieval era.  I could invent a totally unknown set up, but then it would become the story’s focus instead of its backdrop, and that’s not usually what I’m trying to do.  Why re-invent the wheel?  Why not tweak it just a little?

It’s useful to figure out what the power structure is at the family level.  Is your protagonist the head of the family, or its youngest, least important member?  How well does your protagonist get along with parents and siblings?  Past that, what’s the power structure in the village?  Is there a mayor, a magistrate, a chieftain, or a council?  What about the kingdom?  How many royals?  Absolute power or a king saddled with an unruly parliament?  If your story spans multiple kingdoms or countries, what are their differing structures?  Obviously, they shouldn’t all be the same.

In my current manuscript-in-progress, THE CRYSTAL BONES, I set up the human kingdom of Antrasia and subdivided it into shires.  I figured out who runs those shires and what the rank or title is and that these individuals answer only to the king.  Then I established how many villages are in each shire, where the defense castles are located, and so on.  Once I created the hierarchies within the kingdom, the castle, the village, and the family, I established how and where my characters fit.

In my books THE PEARLS and THE CROWN, I dealt with an empire structure similar to ancient Rome.  I had to plan the internal organization of an imperial army.  I used the term “legion” although I changed the terms for a legion’s subdivisions and the various military ranks.  Although my character Shadrael has been discharged from the army and no longer goes to war, it was an important part of his life.  Those experiences affect his perceptions, attitudes, reactions, and emotional state.  The fact that he still wears his old medal, although he was dishonorably discharged and now lives as a road bandit, should show readers some small, poignant insight (I hope) into his personality.

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