Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Government Types

While I’m a sucker for the classic fantasy monarchy, there are actually multiple types of government to utilize for worldbuilding. Government itself may be one of the largest components of building a country. Not only do you need to know what it does, but it helps to know what type of government rules.

Starting with the classic and slightly trope-y version, there is of course the monarchyA single ruler who inherits the title, usually king or queen. This can also include emperors. If you’re not sure if you have an emperor or a king remember that you can actually have both. Emperors often rule over multiple kingdoms, allowing kings to handle a single kingdom within the bounds of their empire.

Don’t confuse a monarchy with a dictatorship. Although both are ruled by a single person, dictators rise to power by means of overthrowing or suppressing the original government. This means any type of government can be destroyed by a dictator, as long as the original system is suppressed to allow a single person to rule.

If you’d like to move away from a single-person ruler, there are several options. with oligarchies you have a rule by an elite group. The determination of what makes that ‘elite’ group are up to you. This is usually a small group.

An important note: although oligarchs often end up being wealthy, this is not a requirement to form an oligarchy. A subset of the oligarchy, the plutocracy does mean rule by the wealthy. Plutocracies are always oligarchies, however an oligarchy itself can be determined by things such as military power, aristocracy and even theocracy.

Theocracy comes in two forms. The oligarchy discussed above, in which the elite group are those with the most religious power and influence, and in ‘chosen’ rulers such as the Pharaohs. This means rule by religion occurs as both a group rule and a single ruler. In this case, religion is the defining factor between who can and cannot rule.

The final type of government I’d like to cover here is the democracy. In democratic governments, the will of the people being ruled is the highest power. Although this means that rulers and laws are voted on, it means that the majority opinion is the one acted upon.

Regardless of the kind of government you have, there’s always a concern of how to limit the ruling power. When a government does not recognize the limits on its power, you have totalitarianism. For monarchs and dictators, this leads directly to tyrants. For oligarchies of all forms, you end up with elitism. As the government seizes more power and control, the people it’s supposed to be ruling become unhappy and eventually the general populace may either try to leave, or may incite revolution and war.

One final thing to consider when dealing with government is to consider how control is spread out and managed. With tribalism power and control rests in small, local authorities. With tribalism there is no central power to keep the small groups in check. Each one works with or against its neighbors as it pleases.

When there is a central power to keep the local powers in check, you have federalism. Federalism divides the power of the government between each level. Although this prevents any one authority from taking over the rule of another area, it can also create confusion when regions have conflicting policies.

Government is a complex thing. Each type has a dozen nuances, benefits, considerations and disadvantages to consider. Research will be necessary.

Posted in General

Research Tips for Writers

Earlier this weekend while I was getting ready to work on some edits I ended up knee-deep in research on how long a racehorse’s career lasts. How did I end up there? Simple, I started by needing to know how fast a horse could actually run, which lead me to wondering how long horses typically live, which then lead me to wondering how long a horse’s career is, which lead me to the racehorse’s career. By the time I realized it, I was miles away from what I actually needed to know: How fast can a horse run? (The answer, if you’re wondering, is about 40 kilometers/30 mph on average).

Chances are also pretty good that you’ve either been sucked down the research rabbit hole, or you know someone who has been. It’s a hazard of the writer’s job. One interesting fact leads to another, which leads to another and that drags both focus and productivity down. Once we recognize it, we’re not only badly distracted, we may have forgotten what we needed in the first place.

Research is an absolutely vital tool, but like any other tool, it helps to know how to use it and how to prevent it from ruining our time.

Define what you need. This is a pretty simple and easy to do thing. Figure out what you need to know. This prevents you from completely jumping topics. If you need a broad overview of a topic, then set aside time to do some basic research and write down specific questions you need to research further.

Make notes. You won’t remember everything, so once you’ve defined your specifics, make notes on those specifics. This also gives you something to refer back to as you write.  Write down any other questions that come up but try not to jump onto tangents.

Use time appropriately. If you’re just starting a broad topic, then set aside time specifically for that. Mixing writing time and researching time isn’t a good idea when you need to teach yourself about an entirely new topic. That said, a quick question (such as how fast can a horse run) shouldn’t take you that long to research if you know exactly what you need and can search for it specifically. If you’re checking a fast fact, try to limit the amount of time you spend digging for the answer. For me that’s usually about fifteen minutes. If your time runs up and you’re still not sure, make a note on your draft to check it more extensively later.

Early drafts are for errors. By that, I mean you don’t need to have every single detail before you put words to the page. A basic understanding of your topic is usually good enough for your rough draft as you’ll come across story-specific details that will need further research. If you need to change the temperature reading of your about-to-explode-rocket-fuel at some point, you can do it after you’ve gotten the basic story down.


Posted in General, writing

Strange Research

I am a writer. Occasionally this leads me into strange questions such as ‘how much rainfall does Ireland get on average’ or ‘how long does it take the human body to metabolize a sedative’?

NaNo’s project has proven no different, so today we have a list of some of my favorite random search topics, done in the name of research. In no particular order and from a variety of projects:

  • Switchblade invention. The actual date on when switchblades were invented are very, very fuzzy. Although they become increasingly popular throughout the 20th century, they were actually invented somewhere in the early 1800’s.
  • American Kestrel. Small but fierce, this little bird of prey often ends up as meals for larger raptors. They’re also agile flyers capable of using their wings and tail to remain in one particular place while aloft.
  • Average Illinois weather; July. Being so used to Arizona weather which is pretty uniform across the state, I was really surprised to see how much variation occurs between cities.
  • Decomposition time. A number of factors can affect this, such as temperature, humidity and even the material surrounding a corpse. Figuring this out takes a lot of other little factors.
  • Huldra. According to Scandinavian folklore huldra are enchantingly beautiful young women often disguised as simple dairy or farm maids, and only distinguished by the sight of a tail peeking from below their skirts or their hollowed out backs.

Though far from a complete list of the things I’ve looked up in the name of research, these are still some of the things that stand out to me. What are some of the things you’ve researched for a story?