Things To Know When Creating & Developing Fictional Governments

Whether you're trying to create a fantasy kingdom or flesh out a futuristic country, this can help you figure out how to structure just about any fictional government and determine how it should work and what kind of people should be working for its leadership.

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How most types of governments are organized.

Most types of governments administrate their countries using the same basic organizational structure. First, there will be a primary leadership (whether an individual, a body, or a body headed by an individual) that manages the whole country. Under the primary leadership will be regional leaders whose jobs are to manage smaller portions of the country (think territories, provinces, or states). Below that are people who are in charge of smaller areas yet (think counties). Then, you have people whose job is to administrate over individual towns and cities, and if those are large enough, you might have people who manage individual areas of those. In other words, you often have 4-5 levels of management.

The main differences between types of governments come down to three points:

  1. Who can lawfully come into power.
  2. How they can lawfully come into power.
  3. What they can lawfully do once they get there.

The first item is defined by two things: what whoever is in charge believes makes for a fit and deserving leader, which will depend on a number of factors - which might be any mix of fair and unfair. Here are a few examples:

As for the second, there is of course inheritance, election, or appointment by a higher-ranking authority. Depending on what kind of culture you're creating, there are other options, too. Perhaps potential leaders must enter some sort of competition (not necessarily a physical one!), with the winner being chosen as the next leader. Perhaps priests are asked to appeal to higher powers to point out the best possible leader. Perhaps potential leaders have to rise through ranks by earning promotions.

For the third, in an absolute monarchy, a ruler will be able to do anything and everything without legal consequence - though there's always still risk of coups or rebellions should the monarch be perceived as too intolerable! In constitutional governments, leaders will be be more limited. Though they may still wield some power, they are not legally free to do whatever they please with impunity, and may even be relieved of title or office should they fail in their duties.

With all this in mind, you can build your country's administrative system up with the particulars tailored to fit the type of government you want - whether it's supposed to be more fair or more oppressive, whether it's supposed to be an early civilization still wrought with superstition or one that has fostered rationality for ages, or whether it's supposed to be inspired by a real place and time or if you're going for something else. (One quick note - if you are going for historical inspiration, make sure to look up information specific to the exact place and time you're going for. You don't want to end up accidentally having your "Medieval" government do something that never happened until the Renaissance and even then only during a very short period of time, or end up transposing some English custom into a country based on Sweden or something.)

What kind of help those in power are going to need or want.

Leaders, whether national or local, simply aren't going to be able to get everything done on their own - they're going to need to delegate a lot of work to others.

One thing people in charge are almost certainly going to need are advisors. Exactly which types they'll need will depend on circumstance. As a general rule, if something affects the safety and security of their jurisdiction (or if they believe it does), they'll probably want advisors on it.

In any area where trade and commerce happens, they'll probably need economic advisors to look into and report on the state of the economy and advise on what might be done to improve it. Heads of state will need people to look into what's going on in other countries and let them know if it might affect them negatively, and if so, what might be done about it. They'll also likely need military advisors to report on how their own military forces are doing and where they might need improved or reinforced, and whether they might ought to be sent to or withdrawn from somewhere. If leaders are religious, they might have people to advise them on which choices would be most congruent with their faith. If they see religion as a stabilizing force, they might have advisors who keep an eye on and report on the state of religion.

They'll also likely need record-keepers to keep track of what goes on during official meetings, and they'll likely need treasurers to manage official finances. They might need people who can see to it that people they work or meet with are provided with refreshments and any necessities they might need. And personal servants/assistants who can run sundry errands for them might not be amiss, either.

On a more personal level, they might hire tutors and instructors, both for themselves and for their children, depending on what they want or think they ought to learn. Exactly what these might be will depend on circumstance and personal preferences, of course - horse riding might be a necessity if there's no other real way to travel long-distance. It might still be seen as a necessity in a world with alternatives if riding horses is perceived as something you just do because it's been tradition so long, or it might just be seen as an acceptable hobby that one might or might not get into. Alternatively, someone might decide that it's totally pointless and have the kids learn something else instead.

And of course, there might be domestic servants - anything they or their family doesn't have time for or just don't want to be bothered doing themselves, they'll likely hire people to do for them if they can afford it. This could include cooking, cleaning, minding the children, home repair and maintenance, looking after riding animals, managing supplies and personal finances, and so on. If they can afford it and if they are so inclined, they might also hire people for other services, such as entertainment, making portraits, or grooming and styling.

If they're likely to get attacked, robbed, or spied on, they'll also need security. This can mean getting people to build or maintain fortifications or security systems, as well as hiring guards.

Of course, these don't cover every possible position they might need filled, and depending on your setting some might not apply. So as you're building and developing your setting, stop and ask yourself what the people in it might need and want, not just what people in other settings have.

It's worth noting that, depending on, they might have people who fill multiple positions. And if they don't feel it's necessary or feasible to get full-time help, they might turn to friends and family. (After all, why hire a cook if the spouse is willing to do it and can keep up with the workload?)

And of course, there's the question of just who they're going to get to fill the various jobs and positions they need people for. For anything concerning anything particularly important or sensitive (EG, money, security, or being in constant proximity to themselves or their valuables), they'll likely want people they feel they can trust. This might mean running background checks, or hiring people they already know and trust for the job. In a setting where literacy is limited to the upper class, they won't be hiring peasants for any job that requires reading or writing. (Yes, all of this this means that random peasant girls probably should not be picked to become personal servants, even if they are pretty.) For anything else - well, it's just a matter of who is available, qualified, and probably not too likely to make a lot of trouble on the job.

How people can come into power and keep it aside from law or tradition.

Obviously, not everyone came into power through lawful or typical means. Some took it by force, some wormed their way into it, and some just became too big a force to ignore. Also, those who have law or tradition behind them will need more than that to maintain their power - otherwise, people might just depose them and take their place.

The first and biggest factor is support. Anyone who hopes to come into power or to keep is going to need lots of it or face a swift and sure trouncing. It doesn't work like Chronicles of Riddick, where killing someone means you take over the position with no questions asked. (Any government like that would collapse in very short order!) If some lone wolf offs the king and plops down on the throne, people aren't going to just fall in line - they're probably going to mete out whatever punishment is deemed fit for king-murderers. Things aren't going to be any better if this lone wolf offs every possible heir, either - then you're going to get a power vacuum, which is going to result in anyone and everyone who'd like to take over the leadership struggling for dominance until one finally comes out on top or until they all exhaust or destroy themselves.

Here are a few ways people might gain support:

Another way to come into power is to hold a monopoly on a highly-desired commodity. In such a case, one can demand nearly anything one wants in exchange for this commodity. However, if the price is perceived as too high, one risks others getting fed up and trying to take it over for themselves.

In summary!

Also check out:

On Writing & Roleplaying Characters Who Are Good Leader Material
Tips To Write Better Royalty, Nobility, & Other Upper-Class & Important Characters
Things Writers Need To Know About Security & Concealment
Tips To Create Richer & More Realistic Fantasy & Science Fiction Cultures & Civilizations
Creating & Writing Fictional Organizations
Creating & Writing Fantasy Armies - Things To Keep In Mind & Consider
Country & Culture-Development Questions
Tips To Write & Create Better & More Believable Futures
Tips To Build Better Post-Apocalyptic And/Or Dystopian Settings
On Designing & Writing Oppressive Governments In Your Fiction

Points To Remember When Worldbuilding
Things Your Fantasy Or Science Fiction Story Needs
Things You Need To Do In Your Science Fiction Or Fantasy Story
Designing Fictional Fashion: Figuring Out What Your SF Characters Wear

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