Politics as Part of Worldbuilding

The more complex a world is, the more its able to define what differentiates it from other worlds. One example that is often overlooked, however, is the subject of politics. Governments and their doings influence so many things in civilized society: in fact, your politics (fictional, of course. No one cares about your real-life political affiliation) can often form the basis of a story, similar to how it does in The Giver.

But truth be told, worldbuilding systems of politics and government is often just that: overlooked. The other main thing that happens is that it’s overdone or poorly done, and so a good political system (I mean an interesting one, not necessarily a moral or useful one) has to be done right in order to even be worth putting in at all.

Now, you’re probably asking yourself: how do I make an interesting, fictional, political system? The rule of thumb I’m going to be referring back to is the ‘ole K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). Simply put, simple is better. Don’t bother yourself with delegations and peace talks and common enemies and recruitment of armed forces and spy campaigns if it doesn’t directly correlate with the plot of your story. Avoid info dumping, and explain relevant details of your politics when appropriate.

That being said, you actually have to suffuse your government/system of politics with an interest factor. How do we do that? Well, do it the same way people find interest in stories: through meaningful conflict. The more the politics of your world infuse, direct, fuel, or spur the main conflict, the more interested the readers will be.

There are three levels of conflict when it comes to conflict and systems of politics: the first is foreign conflict. This most commonly occurs when the government is fighting a war, but it can be other things like sending foreign relief or international sports tournaments. This is the least likely to interfere with the good guys’ goals, but I’ll explain in a moment how each of these might be used in a given context.

The second one is direct domestic conflict: this one is the most common, as a lot of writers use this system of government to directly hurt their protagonists. While this level of conflict has the most usability, it is often overused as a consequence an so can be boring if not handled correctly.

The third one gathers a lot of mystery and intrigue: it’s conflict pertaining to infighting and problems within politics itself. As every standing politician has a political rival (it may not be obvious, but the conflict between two people in politics is palpable), it becomes reasonable to have a few politicians betray each other in your story.

The three levels of political conflict have different applications. For example, a spy story might make use of levels three and one very well, but probably would have trouble with two. A story about war would be much the same. If you were writing a western, however, #2 would generally be your ticket to ride. The movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington almost exclusively (if not only) uses the third level of political conflict, even though politics permeate the story entirely.

The level of conflict (or how involved your government is with the story) depends on how important it is. If it’s a common-or-garden government in a CRF world, then choosing another level of conflict might be a problem. Only build a government when you need one, and if you do, mention only relevant details at appropriate times. Remember, if it doesn’t do anything for your story, cut it out.

But once you conclude that a system of politics would be good for your story, you should probably sprinkle a hint of level three conflict in addition to whatever other conflict it may serve to create. It adds an extra dimension to the story, even if you don’t expand on it too much.

There’s one final thing that I should mention: at least one detail of your new government should have the “strange attraction” that I talked about. Just one random detail that has a bit of history behind it. For instance, perhaps only women are allowed to be elected to this certain position in government. Maybe all nobles need to have a special tattoo on their palm. In any case, adding a strange attractor can be super helpful. I wrote an entire blog post on it two or so weeks ago, and I encourage you to check it out.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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