World Building Tips:  Empires and Power Structures

World building is important in any setting. There are places, such as fantasy literature where it can become the difference between a believable world and an unbelievable one. Suspension of disbelief is often a critical part to stories. 

Many fantasy books take place during times of war, or revolution or even a fall of a corrupt empire.  I love reading these sorts of stories, as many people do.  Power structures can be complex.  They can be used to create tension and drama between characters - take for instance the hero versus the corrupt government troupe in fiction such as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter or even more traditional fantasies such as Tigana ( by Guy Gavriel Kay) or The Wheel of Time series (by Robert Jordan).   As a reader it can be compelling to follow these stories.  For writers though, it can seem daunting to go into the details of shaping a believable power structure.  Here are some basic tips for creating one.  

There are four crucial factors to any power structure.  These are as follows:

Originally posted by aivim

1. Military - this includes the size of the army, the types of technology used (guns or swords? navy or land army?), the basic structure of the army (is it highly regimented like the Romans? What are the different groups within the army? How are they divided - by technology, skills or social status?). Another important question here is why has the military developed in this way? The Roman military, for example, grew out of competition with other Italian states. The opposition is equally important here - who were/are they within your story? Apply the above questions just as much to them, because empires and other structures are influenced by the world around them. The military can be the reason an empire begins in the first place.  The military should also play a role in sustaining the power structure/empire.  It doesn’t have to be the strongest factor by any means.  It may even become the downfall of the structure in the end.

Originally posted by bonekaiser

2. Economy - How is your power structure or empire funded? Does this change over time? Does your empire take part in internal or external trade? Is trade important to the running of the empire? Resources such as crops, fertile land or people are also a part of this and influences the larger actions (such as conquest) your structure takes towards other countries. Trade can be a form of control and influence as well, even outside of the structure’s territory. In terms of story, a lot of decisions that are made involve trade or economic reasons - no one wants to get on the wrong side of someone who controls valuable resources or trade with other entities. The British Empire was based mainly on trade and this insured a global influence even as it declined in actual power.

Originally posted by crazyinyonce

3. Administration: The system of government and the way it manages itself is important to know. Is it a traditional monarchy or a democracy? How is leadership decided? How is power delegated throughout the larger administration? Hierarchy? One person can’t do or know everything. In terms of empire and conquest this is equally important. Does the empire recruit the local elites from conquered areas to administer to the general public, like the Romans? If your story is set in the outskirts of your empire, this could effect the outcome of the story - local elites might enjoy the power they have gained through an alliance with the larger empire and thus be unwilling to revolt against it. What other ways does your power structure control its territory? Does it use culture, or a set language to spread out into new territory? What kind of empire is your empire? Is it land based (only conquering territories linked by land) or maritime (navy focused with overseas territory)?

Originally posted by ashmoleanmuseum

4. Culture: How does your power structure interact with its subjects? Even in a small area, different ethnic groups exist, so what unites all of them together? Are they all united, or is there groups of people the power structure leaves out? Have they always been left out deliberately or have these groups formed over time?How does the the government and the people from inside the empire view outsiders and their culture? Does this influence your story or characters? Do negative stereotypes or different language create a barrier between your character and others? In newly conquered areas is the empire’s language, laws and social ideals endorsed to locals or is it forced upon them? Is religion important to how the empire works or interacts? For example, before war do the gods need to show approval for the empire’s commanders? What about clashes of religion with other areas? Where do cultures intersect? Is your empire influenced by an older power or a hard past? What is seen as integral to your structure’s culture - art, literature, music etc? Are allies connected with your structure through culture, a shared distant history?

Most power structures rely on all of these factors - but none are ever equal in importance. Your government will identify one or two of these areas as important and focus on them. This can impact how the structure comes together and eventually falls apart - the greatest strength becomes a weakness, or something is overlooked until it is too late.

This is a long post - so I’m going to leave it here for now. If you guys have any questions, feel free to use the Ask feature to contact me.


The hammerhead shark from the Disney film; Atlantis: the lost empire

Creation made by Hailey

You can follow her on Instagram where she creates so many lovely Disney things. She is amazing and so talented.
In her Bio on insta is the link to her shop where you can buy her creations.

Insta name: @creationsbyhailey

Headcannon that on Easter, Tony would hide a bunch of Easter eggs around the Avengers tower for everyone to find. Some of them would be in really weird spots like inside the dishwasher. By the end of the long day, Steve goes to his and Tony’s shared bedroom, ready to call it a night. He sees the final Easter egg laying on his pillow and inside is an engagement ring.