The Political Environment of Your Fantasy Novel

No, I’m not talking about modern politics where candidates debate over the various issues of the day (although your fantasy world could have these elements). I’m talking about the way people live in society. Even though fantasy is whatever your imagination makes it, it has to be grounded in concepts which we understand. It helps to research various societies, both historical and modern. Here are some questions you should consider when you are creating your make-believe world.

Who Rules?
Is your fantasy world run by a king, a tyrant, a council of nobles, an elected council, the church, a clan chief, a god, etc.? How are kings, nobles, or chiefs made? Is your king or chief a direct descendant of other rulers or is he/she determined by their military prowess? Are councils elected by the nobility or the people? Does the church have more control or the king?

Who Controls the Land?
Do people work as serfs under a lord or do they own it outright? How static or dynamic are your world’s borders? Are there disputes over certain territories or is it generally stable? How widespread or close together are the people in the land?

How does Commerce Work?
Are certain occupations controlled by guilds? Do people have the freedom to make and sell whatever they want or are enterprises controlled by the nobility or church? For example, do they have to get permission from the local ruler to run an inn or a smithy? What about taxes? Is there corruption? Are there groups akin to gangs or mob bosses of whom the people have to pay “protection”? Do people barter and trade or is there an established money system? How stable is that money system?

What are the Various Occupations of your People?
Consider various occupations such as fishermen, soldiers, mercenaries, farmers, smiths, farriers, teachers, innkeepers, wagoners, stablemen, postmen, prostitutes, musicians, sailors, merchants, traders, etc. How does each member of society interact with other members? For example, how do farmers perceive soldiers and vice versa? How do land dwellers perceive sailors? Are merchants generally perceived as fair or do they tend to trick and deceive? Does society appreciate art performers such as bards or musicians or are they seen as beggars and thieves?

Who gets Educated?
Is education open to everyone or limited to the upper classes of society? Are there formal educational institutions such as universities, schools for soldiers, or schools for magic? How accessible are books or scrolls? Are there libraries? Who runs the libraries, the nobles or the church? How much of society knows how to read?

Who Administers the Law?
There are generally differences between town guards and soldiers. What are those differences and what are their objectives? Who are these law enforcers or soldiers controlled by? Are they corrupted? Does the king control all the soldiers and law enforcement or does each town have their own? Don’t forget about the justice system. Is there a formal court system? How difficult is it for an ordinary person to get justice? Is there corruption here as well? How strict is the law? How harsh are punishments?

Are there Foreign Interactions?
Is there a particular land in which your world has to deal with, either amicably or not? How pervasive are these foreigners? Does your land have foreign invaders? How commonplace is trade with these foreigners? What exotic wares do your foreigners bring? What special skills? How tolerant is your society of foreigners? What is the political environment of these foreigners?

These are just a few of the political questions I could think of. I’m sure as you write your fantasy novel more will occur to you. Doing the research for your political environment can be a boring chore but it can also be intriguing. It might even help you come up with some conflict ideas in your story. For example, perhaps your character hates sailors but finds that he has to travel on a ship. Or your character needs to seek justice but administrators require a bribe before they will even bother to hear your complaint. The possibilities are endless!

Click HERE for a list of books that might help you in your research.

4 Responses to “The Political Environment of Your Fantasy Novel”

  1. These are awesome questions to ask yourself to get an idea of a new story’s landscape. After all, a tyrannical king will weigh heavier on any story than a place governed by a republic.

  2. Reblogged this on Invisible Ink and commented:
    An excellent post from Dawn Ross that I would tag as WorldBuilding.

  3. Great post. Often this is overlooked and can add great depth to a story if properly developed.

  4. The political environment is always a bit tricky to write, but does add a lot of depth to the overall world. It shows the main character does not live in a vacuum.

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