Saturday, June 1, 2019

2019 - June - World Building - Governments, Caste Systems

This is Part 6 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings ◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved - Catherine E. McLean /

Good government is one of the most important factors in economic growth 
and social well-being.
—Joe Lonsdale 

In the overall world-view of a story's setting, there is some type of law-and-order system, a governing body or governing individual, that affects the protagonist and other characters in a story. The governance will have a psychological, social, and political influence that will be reflected in the setting and other aspects of a story. 

Yes, we're talking about a "government."

But what exactly is government? It is defined as "social relations involving intrigue to gain authority or power." 

Types of governments and governing bodies include utopian, dystopian, capitalism, dictatorship, communism, fascism, racism, theocracy, totalitarianism, militarism, plutocracy, and more.

Caste systems run the gamut from family units, to warrior classes (like Samurai) to hunter-gatherer tribes to pharaohs and kings, princes and emperors, alien (extraterrestrial) and magical.

In creating a story world, a lot of thought and research may go into the society the story's characters must function in. Yet, no matter how much research a writer does or how much pre-writing is done about a governing body of that story world, the reader won't need but a tenth of it. After all, the reader wants a story, not a historic tome. 

A writer should strive to present the effects, both positive and negative, of a society's laws, norms, phobias, morals, etc. while the story moves along. The trick is to do it without resorting to an information dump. 

The most effective way to get the necessary elements on the page will be through one specific person, and often one of the high-ranking minions of the government end up being the antagonist. For example, a king or the chief of a warring tribe out to gain territory or riches. But it could also be a bureau chief of a government body (like the CIA) or some rich CEO. 

By exercising all the clout and power at their disposal, such antagonists become an enemy to the protagonist. And that, of course, forces the protagonist to either go along or go against the reining presence.

The conflict between the antagonist and the protagonist helps the reader better experience the story on a more personal and emotional level. For example, the IRS stops being initials for a government bureau and a faceless but oh-so-powerful entity when one zealous agent (who has a name, an agenda, and a goal) deliberately targets the protagonist. That causes considerable turmoil for the protagonist, forcing them to take the challenge, persevere, and change the status quo. 

In a war or great battle of militaries, it's not the entire war that unfolds, but one person's role in that war. That's because war is too large a scale, and the story isn't about the war itself (no matter how interesting the aspects of that war are). A wise writer will write about a small segment of that war from a specific Point of View and Viewpoint—usually that of the protagonist. 

Whether it's medieval fight using swords or a modern war fought with drones, it's best to limit the field of action to a specific battle site setting. For example, it's not Platoon Bravo in Sector 4, it's Private Brown, terrified, feeling the impact of the noise of bullets and grenades, the cumbersomeness of his gear, the weight of his weapon, who is slogging up a hill to take out an enemy fortification and seeing his comrades fall. It's the war (and the character's inner battle) up close and personal for the reader.

Again, a story's setting is impacted by a particular ruling government body or a caste or tribal system, which in turn affects or influences the primary story characters' words, thoughts, and deeds. 

As always, add only what is absolutely necessary for verisimilitude to keep the reader engaged.

Next month World Building continues with -  July 2019 - Science or Magic?  Fantasy or Reality?
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