Friday, August 4, 2023

Worldbuilding 101 for Writers: Writing Government and Economics

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

As a young person, I was instructed that there three topics you never bring up at social events: Politics, Money, and Religion. All three of them tend to cause division and strife, or at the very least vocal disagreement. 

But what about when you are designing an entire fantasy culture? How much of a role do those three topics play in worldbuilding? 

Well, if they can cause so much trouble in the real world, it stands to reason they’re very important in whatever world you’re building for a novel. 

So far in this Worldbuilding 101 series, we’ve talked about Existing History, People and Social Circles, Language and Communication, Climate and Geography, Agriculture, and last month, Faith and Religion. This month, we’re diving into politics, specifically Government and Economics

This is one of those worldbuilding topics that will supersede your genre. You need it in fantasy and science fiction, but you also need it in action thrillers and even superhero stories. 

What sort of a country do your characters live in? 

You have to know, because the action, the setting, and the cultures within different governmental structures vary in extreme ways. 

A fantastic fictional example of pre-Communist Russia is Fiddler on the Roof. Granted, that story is very focused on the Jewish communities living in Russia at that time (around 1905, I believe), but many of the elements of the latter days of the Russian empire under Nicholas II are present in the worldbuilding of this historical drama/musical.

In masterpieces like The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, we get an extraordinary portrait of Nazi Germany—both inside and outside the concentration camps. Neither story goes deep into why the culture is the way it is; they both just present the grim picture of what happens when a government is radically (horrifically) biased against a race of people. 

Historical novels like The Eagle of the Ninth and The Mark of the Horselord by Rosemary Sutcliff deal with the Roman Empire and its conquest and subsequent rule over Britain and the Celts. 

Epic political thrillers by the likes of Tom Clancy (i.e. The Hunt for Red October) usually pit socialist countries during the Cold War (primarily the U.S.S.R.) against America, sometimes with other cultures like the United Kingdom along for the ride. Contrasting three different types of governmental systems with their limitations and boundaries is part of the allure of stories like that.

Without a basic understanding of political and economic systems, those stories would fall apart. 

But all of these examples are stories that take place in the real world with real countries and real nations. So why is it important to understand government and economics for a fantasy world? 

Well, because people are people no matter where or when they live. 

If a socialist country has problems because of their policies in the “real world,” then they’re going to have the same problems in a fantasy world. In socialism, the problem is usually the redistribution of wealth (there’s where the economics come in). That problem is going to be a problem whether your characters live on Earth or on Mars.

If a character who grows up in a strict monarchy suddenly starts living in a democratic country, how will that affect his or her decision making? The mindset of people who live under a king or queen is very different from someone who lives in a country founded on self-governance. In a self-governing culture, you are responsible for your own well-being; generally speaking, in a monarchy, you rely on the appointed ruler of your nation to provide for you.

If a character grows up in a country that is primarily fascist, how will they respond if they end up having to live in a nation where there is no social hierarchy? Where all races and people groups are considered equal? 

If a character grows up in a capitalist society with a free market and must relocated to a dictatorship where civil liberties are non-existent, how will they cope? Imagine growing up with freedom of speech, religion, and all of that and suddenly not having it anymore. 

Nation-building within your fantasy world

As the author, you get to decide. As the architect of the world you’re designing, you decide how your nation begins and continues. You get to decide how important finances and resources are, whether the people use currency or goods in exchange for services. 

Be intentional about the government system you use for your novel. Knowing how a character views other countries and other people groups is a vital piece of their journal through a story. Economics plays an important role as well, since how we value money and resources can tell a lot about us as people. 

Do your research. Understand how human nature affects governments and pay attention to the fact that no nation remains the same forever—especially on the inside. 

Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at

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