The Seed of Government - Part 1

by Crissy Moss

 

One of the greatest hurdles to becoming a professional artist is deciding how much to charge for a commission. Pricing your own artwork is going to be a very personal decision with a host of factors to consider. This article is not intended to be a definitive resource for setting prices across the field of art, but rather, it is meant as a series of suggestions for making your own decisions about charging for your artwork.

As an example, I'm going to make up a client, Bob, who has asked me to paint him a picture of a troll character who is starring in the novel he is working on. He wants the picture to be a 12 x 18 piece in watercolor, and he wants his troll to be carrying a big axe, with a bunch of mountains in the background and a circle of mushrooms on the ground by his feet. He's mentioned that if he really likes the piece, he'd like it to be the cover of his novel.

Governmental structures are key to many events in novels and short stories. Perhaps the plot involves the assassination of a high ranking official, or palace intrigue. Maybe a princess needs to be rescued, or a tyrant replaced.

In each, the government within the story had to be developed to some extent. The more interaction with officials, complaint of the commoners against, or praise for the government, the more developed it must be.

In some stories the government plays little or no part of the story, but it is there. People move freely across boarders because of open governments, at other times they must go through check points because guards are set to keep people in or out.

Governments also determine whether or not what your character is doing is considered breaking the law. In some places it could be against the law to carry things on a particular day, or wear a particular color because it offends the king for some reason. This does concern the government, but you may not need to get as detailed concerning that world as you would in another story.

Governments can take all kinds of forms depending on the demeanor of the people, and the rulers. On earth we have several types of governments including monarchies, democracy, and communism. All of these are systems you could use for your story, or you could create something completely different.

In this section I will be discussing different things that can effect a government and the people in it. You can skip this, and go on to the next section, which tells about different types of governments if you like. It would be good to read 'Determining Boundaries' first, as that will help you to place and determine the types of governments you may need.

 

Determining Boundaries

Fantasy worlds usually have more then one country, or race, and each country/race has it's own system. Sometimes the system will not have distinct boarders, as in a world where the elves and humans mingle in areas, but each is ruled by their own king. Some will have distinct boarders with soldiers that guard them. There are other systems that will be made of nomads, or stretch under the ground instead of on top of it. In SF the system may stretch over a planet or a galaxy. Some areas might even be labeled 'unexplored' or 'uninhabited' and everything would be unknown to anyone in that particular story.

Once you have decided how many countries-territories-bands or other groups you have you should write each in a list like this:

 

  • Country Race
  • Adinaca Elves
  • Hegmore humans
  • Groden trolls
  • Tribe of Gis human, nomad
  • Etc. Etc.

 

It would help if you answer these questions about each of these races-territories.

 

  1. Do they have permanent settlements? Nomadic? Migratory?
  2. What do they hold in highest regard? Religion? Magic? War? Peace? Crops?
  3. What is the demeanor of the majority of people? Warlike? Pacifists? Isolationists? Curious?
  4. Do they hold one class above another? I.E. warriors greater then priests, mages greater then peasants.
  5. Are the common people strong willed? The more strong willed they are, and opposed to the government, the more likely they could over throw it if the new king becomes a tyrant.
  6. What are the living conditions like? Are the commoners oppressed? Poor?
  7. Are there slaves?
  8. Are the nearest neighbors friend or enemy?
  9. Is there free trade within the state? Across boarders? Across oceans?
  10. How do they feel toward magic? War? Peace? Religion?
  11. Who is the most powerful? Priest? Mage? War chief? Politician?

 

 

Once you have these basic questions about the country you can easily see that some government systems work far better then others for specific areas. For example, a nomad race of humans who live in a desert and distrust magic are not likely to have a Magocrasy. Just the same, a group of powerful mages who have garnered the trust and love of their people are quite likely to be given the rule if they desire it.

 

How History Effects Government

In the history of the United States there have been wars, revolutions, and civil strife. If you think about the history of the USA, then change something the whole structure would then change. For instance, if the USA had lost the Revolutionary War then Great Britain would still be in control of it. If the South had won the Civil War then the entire structure of the USA would be changed.

In your own world building think of the history behind the country. If it's a nomadic race that has settled into a fertile area to become farmers then they are likely to have a different system of government then a race that has lived in the same spot in isolation for thousands of years. Likely, their nomadic heart would still be in place, and show in their choice of government.

War plays a great deal in government choice as well. Many wars have resulted in the defeated country becoming slaves, or otherwise considered 'inferior' then the victors. In some cases entire races have been, or were attempted to be whipped out. Genocide has resulted in feuds that span centuries, and tyrannical governments bent on, or hinged around the destruction of another people.

Religious upheaval has shaped much of the world in one way or another. The United States was formed when pilgrims left Europe, or in some cases were forced out, seeking freedom of religion as well as fame, glory, and riches. At other times differences in religion have caused wars, witch trials, crusades, inquisitions, and 'religious purification'. In some places it is illegal to practice some forms of religion. In others it is all right as long as you do not do it in public.

 

Geography

Place in the world has much to do with governmental matters. For instance, China started as a dynasty, then when the USSR came into power and spread communism to other countries China was one that received it. In my opinion, proximity to the USSR is one thing that lead to their acceptance of communism.

Nomadic tribes have often been forced to be nomadic because of the land they lived on. Goat herders can not stay in one place too long if the land will not support them. Instead, they drive their herds to new fields were they can find water, grass, and shelter. If their are enemies near they take refuge in the presence of others, or seek refuge in peaceful cities. Any government they have is looser, and some times nonexistent beyond the family structure.

Another geographic item that could determine the government is isolation. If there are high mountains on one side, and oceans on the other, then it is likely that the country would be cut off from most attacks, and trade routes. This would also cause the people to become more introspective of their own country and their own welfare as opposed to a world view. In this global communication age isolation is nearly unheard of except for little tribes in the jungles of the amazon, or in the back woods of some undeveloped areas. These small tribes have kept their ancient governments with witch doctors, tribe elders, and other forms. A medieval kingdom without technological advances would also be less effected by outside demands, and thus would rely solely on what lay inside the kingdom.

Trade routes also play a big part in government. Whether by land or sea, the more influence by people outside the country the more likely the people are to be freer and fight to keep that freedom.

 

Salt

Salt was a major factor in expansion and movement of the worlds people. With salt they could preserve food and take it with them on long journeys. With salt they could live, for the truth of the matter is that without salt you would die. Your body needs salt to live. Many ancient cures involved eating salt. Of course today most people have more salt then they need, but in medieval times salt was worth it's weight in gold in some areas.

Salt is acquired by extraction from brine pits, salt flats, and the sea, depending on technological ability. In some areas elaborate pipe systems were created to bring brine to the surface where it was boiled down. In other areas entire forests were destroyed in the lust for salt.

Governments hoarded salt, taxed it, and used it to fight wars. The more salt they had, the more they could feed their armies, the stronger they were. Often small feuds were fought over the theft of salt mines. Some wars were nearly lost over lack of salt, and some tactics of war involved cutting off supplies of salt and other food.

 

Availability of Food

In an area where there is little food those who have the control are able to hold the lives of the people in their hands, thus they have more power, and, depending on their disposition, can be tyrannical or the most loved king.

Drought, famine, the change in fishing grounds, locus, mice, salt... All of these can change the circumstance of a kingdom. If the people are hungry and the government does not provide food for them then it is more likely that the people will revolt. That is why the Roman empire started the first welfare system in which the poor were given bread. It was not because they were concerned about the poor, it was because they knew the power of that many hungry people.

 

Your Storyline

Lastly, your storyline does play a part in the government you should choose for your world. If they are not compatible then one or the other is going to have to change.

It is likely that you could start world building and half way through creating a country realize that something doesn't work... your people are too happy under their tyrant, their is too much available food in a drought, there are powerful mages in a society ruled by mage hating bureaucrats. In any of these you could either change something to make them more compatible, or use it as the storyline. For instance if there are powerful mages in a world that does not like magic then they would be in hiding and the bureaucrats would be trying to find them.

Thus we come to your particular storyline. You have the plot all laid out, and you have begun to put down the words, but when you look at the world it seems a bit flat and uninteresting. You realize you have no government in place even though they are going after the very bones of the government to upend it and recreate something they can live with.

Well, first you need to find out what is so horrible about the government that they would want to overthrow it. It could be a little thing like 'We are forbidden to wear green' or a bigger thing like the torturing of innocent people.

Then it is necessary to find out what caused these events, this law, or anything else that may effect your story.

It may be necessary to change some things within your world building to adjust to your story, however once you have written one story for that world it is very unwise to change the world building. Expanding, and evolving are great (I.E. one country taking over another, or one species disappearing into the unknown) but if a reader likes your stories and they don't agree with each other even when set in the same world they are not going to be happy and probably will never read anything you write again.

 

Conclusions

While governments are important to the structure of the world, it is a matter of degree on how much you build it, and what you do with it, just as it is a matter of preference how many people you put in your world, and how far you stretch it.

Now that you've read part one you can go onto part two and learn specific things about each government. Keep what you have read here in mind, and think about how each government is going to effect the other.

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