Monday, October 29, 2012

Building A World, Part One: Government

Okay, so my trilogy blog posts are done. I was sort of at a loss as to what I might tackle next, because I really like discussing "how-to" things in writing, and so I turned to something I constantly have to do: building a world.

This could be a fantasy world, a futuristic/science fiction world, or even a contemporary world. All books have settings, and even in something as familiar as high school, there's a hierarchy to how things work.

So today we're going to discuss a main component of any world: government.

You must establish the role of government in your world. Some questions to consider:

  • Who makes the laws?
  • Who enforces them?
  • What are the punishments if the rules are broken?
  • What kinds of rules/laws are there?
  • How did these laws come about?
  • How does one rise to a position of power? (See why this applies to high school? Ha!)
  • How does one lose their position of power?
  • Does the MC agree with the government? Fear it? Want to change it? Live under its protection willingly? 

And then we get to the real meat of your story. Because usually, the MC isn't just going along willingly with Those In Charge (TIC). They might be trying to subvert the government without drawing any attention to themselves (example: MATCHED by Ally Condie). In essence, they're hiding. Learning what TIC are really like, what their world is really like.

Which, sidenote: This is why YA fiction is such a great place to anchor stories like this. Because adolescents -- and uh, a lot of adults too -- are figuring out what their world is really like.

So once you've got a pretty good idea of how the government came to be, who's in charge of the government, how it runs, and how your MC views it, you're ready to consider these questions:

  • How far will TIC go to maintain their way of rule?
  • How far will the MC go to change the way their world is governed?
  • Is it even possible to change the entire government in my story?
  • Does it need to be changed? Or can resolution be found while the government is still intact?
  • What does my MC need to enact change? (In ERAGON, he needed the dragon.)
  • Who does my MC need at his side to thwart TIC? (In CATCHING FIRE, Katniss had people on her side she didn't even know about.)
  • What does the MC envision the "new world" to be like? 
  • Who might run the new government?
  • Why might life be better being run in a different way? How might it be worse? 

And once you know all that, I believe you can write a world that A) makes sense, and B) can house a character and a plot.

We're going to continue our discussion of building a world next week, possibly with the subject of textiles, fabrics, and foods.

Have you built a world in your writing? Do you spend time answering these questions about government? What else would you add to the list?


Natalie Aguirre said...

I love world building. Those are great questions to ask yourself about the government, especially for a dystopian world. In my fantasy, I did consider the government and politics some, but it's not a much a focus.

Great series Elana. Looking forward to more in the series.

Jemi Fraser said...

These government questions are what make dystopian lit so much fun!

World building is fun - I've got a fun MG sf-fantasy novel that's been bubbling around in my brain for a bit that I'll get to one of these days. I'm definitely going to need these questions :)

Stina said...

I write YA contemporary, so this isn't something I focus on. Even my YA horror novel doesn't care about the government. It's an important element for dystopian stories. Maybe that's why I'll never write one. :D

I do though, pay attention to the high school hierarchy if it's important to the story.

Anonymous said...

Stina, I can relate to your comment. My genre doesn't lend itself to worlds, but as I was reading this post, I was thinking of the "internal world" of my protagonist and thinking how I could do a better job of creating and showing her world. I think your high school "world" is similar. Good thoughts here.

Angela Brown said...

I've actually developed a couple of new worlds and government infrastructures. It can be very interesting to build a world from the ground up.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

When books have a "new world order" it freaks me out and gives me (good) shivers.


Nick Wilford said...

I haven't tried anything like this, but seeing as I'm writing a YA dystopian for NaNo, I guess I'll be learning on the fly! I think it could be very easy to make the government totally brutal and totalitarian, but that can get to be a bit of a cliche. There should be light and shade, after all it's made up of people... unless you make the government, like, composed of robots... but even those can develop human characteristics... hmm! Sorry for the thinking out loud there. :)

Jen said...

Hi Elana,

The longer I write, I find that the stuff no one will ever read is some of the most important stuff an author will create. We have to know our worlds inside and out. I never, ever thought about government!

Great post! I've bookmarked it.

Hope all is well,

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I never delved deep into government, although I had to do a lot more for my third and final book.

ilima said...

I LOVE world building. I would add how other characters feel about all those things you listed in addition to the MC. A lot of times my MC's are swayed by what others think, do, say. Can't wait to read more on this world building series!

Liesel K. Hill said...

Great post, Elana! While I have a pretty good idea of my govt. in the Interchron series, your post made me realize that I hadn't fully fleshed out the actual laws and various punishments, and I really ought to do that before finishing book 2. Thanks so much. Oh, and side note: I don't know if you're into InkPageant at all (I don't see their badge on your blog anywhere) but you ought to submit any of your writing how-to posts to them. They publish them on the Inkpageant website and you get a much broader audience. Just a suggestion! :D

Patti said...

This has been a very timely post - thanks.

Matthew MacNish said...

You make so many great points! I'm brainstorming a new world now, so this is really useful.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Ooo! Ooo! Another keeper. This is something I have to bear in mind when I'm finally able to get back to my SciFi.

Jenn said...

Well said! I'm really going to have to ponder some of those questions you asked to help me build my story world. Thanks for posting! Looking forward to the other posts in this series. :)

Jessie Humphries said...

I write contemporary but the corruption is still there! In politics, government, police departments, etc. Sad but true!

Julie Daines said...

Great thoughts about world building. And even if you write contemporary, a lot of this still applies as the YA main characters push the boundaries on whatever world they find themselves in: school, peers, or even family.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

World building is a lot of fun and I rarely see posts about how to write about the government or laws. Well done.

Nicole said...

All important aspects of worldbuilding! I love creating all these details for my stories.

SC Author said...

This is awesome. Government is a big part in my YA Fantasy, so this is really helpful. I have to add things I overlooked now! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hello! I stumbled on your blog when researching the structure of trilogies. I found this checklist of questions exceedingly helpful. (As a teacher, I love checklists which I can go through and fill out the answers. Ha!)

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