I’m kind of ashamed this didn’t occur to me when I was writing my first group of world building posts. It’s something I think about constantly in the genre I write and something I’ve definitely noticed other people struggle with because to some it’s not something that seems immediately apparent or like it needs to be fleshed out.
What am I talking about?
When I first started sharing my fantasy stories online one of the most popular plots for other people in, near, and around my social circle was the story of the rebellion. Whether it’s the rebel princess or the dashing fugitive someone in these stories was always rebelling. I can understand why. Revolution is a pretty compelling story. However it was never clear what they were rebelling for, what they were rebelling against (besides a vague “monarchy” or something similar), and most importantly what they were going to do/reform if they won.
That’s right people, buckle in we’re taking a deep dive into politics.
What is a Political Ideology?
In part five of this series I did go over creating political divides a little but that was mostly focused on a much larger scope (like nation vs nation). And while nation vs nation can still apply here we’re gonna be looking more at creating parties and ideology. So first, let’s borrow from wikipedia and answer this header question.
In social studies, a political ideology is a certain set of ethical ideals, principles, doctrines, myths or symbols of a social movement, institution, class or large group that explains how society should work and offers some political and cultural blueprint for a certain social order.
Okay I know that may sound like a tall order so let’s break that down.
So what are politics? Politics are the activities associated with the governance of a country. So think of some of the things mentioned in my previous political post like ensuring clean water or sanitation needs (if that becomes a government responsibility in your setting). Now I know in that post I mentioned disagreements and what people would argue over and when forming a political party that is exactly how you should think about it. Take one of those governing activities and think of ways people would either debate or completely disagree over how or why it should be done.
I tend to work backwards when it comes to this. To put it simply, and in terms of my own writing, Valera came before the Rusnaks.
In my setting the “Rusnaks” are a defined ideology and party that exists throughout the continents, named after the man credited for either creating it or popularizing it for the masses. But the character Valera who first shows up in the stories is what I used to create the ideology before I gave it a backstory and more defined characteristics. It was easy to do it this way for me because Valera, at his core, was meant to be the complete opposite of the “norm” presented in the rest of the setting. As most of the characters are nobility, he was not. Most of the characters came from a very privileged background, he did not. Most of the characters were either allied with or had appreciation to faith and the church, he did not.
When creating a rebel (or a rebellion to back them) it’s not enough to say they simply don’t like the monarchy. Why? What are their specific grievances with the current system in place? Much ideology sometimes comes in the space of a need that isn’t being fulfilled. What does this group plan to accomplish and if they are successful, how do they hope to change the system they dislike?
On the other side, the opposing system should also be fleshed out, especially in settings when the government is said to be supremely powerful and oppressive and yet readers are never really told what the people in power want. Political parties have an agenda. They have a goal in mind. It’s good to say there’s an disagreement present but it’s not really a fleshed out argument if neither side seems to know what they’ll do if they win.
Take it in pieces. Nothing that isn’t relevant should very grace the page but if your story has anything to do with politics like mine, there are probably certain issues the characters are aware of and may want to address. Use those issues that are already affecting the plot to expand on the ideologies that may be present/influencing the world they live in.
A member of the royal family in my book is always aware and wary of growing support of Rusnak parties since one of their goals is to get rid of monarchy. A local lord might pay more attention to his charitable works and support of the public if he knows a local group is growing loud over class injustice.
Agree to Disagree
So I’ve started to touch on these points a little but I’m just gonna hammer them in some more. This, for the most part, is what I look at when grouping together political stances in my settings to create an ideology or party. Now, in the case that this party exists as a reaction to a system that’s in place my first question is usually:
- What is their problem with this?
In fairness, this is not always the most basic question to answer but yeah, what is it? They live in a dystopian world or they’re fantasy peasants who don’t like their liege. Okay, but what specifically? What are their grievances? Is it a lack of representation for a certain group in the governing party (i.e voting rights or elected positions)? Is it the distribution of wealth (or lack thereof)? Are they mad because their local government hasn’t fixed the main road in a while? Is it not the government as a whole but just who is currently in charge of it?
- What is their proposed solution?
You have a problem, now how do they want to fix it? Usually my problem with so many rebellion stories is the solution is “they want to get rid of the monarchy” and okay, then what? What do they want to replace it with? because multiple groups can stem from that vague statement and have completely different ideas of what they should do in the aftermath.
- What influenced them?
It had to stem from somewhere. As a collective did they wake up one day and suddenly realize they had different ideas than other people? Did they read a book they agreed with? Did another movement suddenly spark the growth and spread of people to sprout different ideologies (let us go back to the Enlightenment)? Did the advancement of society allow for the birth of a new class or different types of people joining an old one (and thus their needs changed)?
Hopefully by now you have a basic outline. At every point, it’s fun (and probably helpful for the setting) to think about why someone would oppose this when creating a group. Personally I think it’s very easy to make one group abundantly right and the other very wrong (usually in the case of dystopian governments) but it’s important to remember as readers we’re supposed to believe these groups gained popularity. That something about it as charming enough to get people on board and they supported it. What about it drew people in that no one has rebelled before or that other fractions have been largely unpopular or unsuccessful.
To tie a bow on it, if you think about politics in your setting as problem solving it should become easier to come up with different ideas as to how to solve that problem. Those solutions can serve as the basis for the different ideologies or political parties present either among your characters or just in the background to give that world that lovely, June-approved, lived in feel.