ACADEMY: Lesson 18: History, Culture and Government in your Stories by Jabberwocky
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    Default Lesson 18: History, Culture and Government in your Stories by Jabberwocky

    Hello everyone - it's a new month so that means it is time for a new lesson! I am pleased to welcome old timer Jabberowkcy (currently masquerading as @Beausoleil) to the Academy Writers club, and thank for producing this very intriguing article that continues our world building series with a look at some of the finer elements. Hope you all enjoy!


    Sweating the Details - Building a World as Real as Ours

    by Jabberwocky


    Howdy, y’all! Jabber here! You may know me from such stories as Bulbagarden! and Pokemon GK. At the time of this writing, I am going by the name Beausoleil, but I assure you, it’s definitely Jabber.

    I’m here today to give you some tips on how to build a solid foundation of history, culture, government, and society for your constructed world. The Academy has seen many great guides on worldbuilding, but my goal here is to help you fill in the blanks and develop your world into one that feels just as real as ours, immersing your reader all the more!

    My focus for this essay will be fantasy fiction, but most of these tips are applicable to any sort of work with a constructed world.


    Part One: History


    Let’s assume that you already have your maps and your world basically all drawn out. Now it’s time to dive into your world’s history. What happened in the past sends ripples into the present, so it is very important that you know what happened in your world’s past, and how that affects your story.

    Ideally, everything in your story should have its own history, but let’s focus on the big things for now: that is, your world, continents, and countries/regions. The histories of these things are the most significant to your setting and how it operates.

    The first step in crafting a history is to set your timescale. The standard in our world is BCE/CE, and you can use that scale if possible, but sometimes it will not make sense to use such a real world-centric scaling. For example, in my fanfic Bulbagarden!, I use the BCE/CE dating system because the setting is very close to our world, but in Noses, which is set in the world of One Piece, I must use the in-universe dating system of that series. As a further example, in my in-progress original novel, I use an original dating system based around the rise of a particular empire. It’s important to decide your world’s dating conventions before getting into the world’s history (a significant historical event that you already have established could serve as your calendar’s zero year). Being able to clearly date events in this way is necessary to create a timeline.

    Timelines are a vital tool, and you should keep several for reference. Devolve your timelines: keep one for world history, others for continental history, more for national history, and still more for regional history. I recommend that you create your timelines in that order as well, for maximum consistency in dates. A contradiction in dating can throw off an entire writing session as you cross-reference your other timelines to determine which is correct. However, when your timelines work in harmony, they are a quick, efficient resource that you can draw upon to give a historical basis or background for what is happening in your story. With all your major historical events in one place, you can maintain continuity and avoid contradiction in how the plot develops and how your characters apply the lessons of the past.

    Applying your characters to your historical events is also good! Perhaps that stony old man is a veteran of the Great War. Maybe your heroine was present for the assassination of President Kennedy. Giving your characters experience with the events of the past is both a way to make those events more “real” to your readers, and a great way to flesh out your characters, adding layers of backstory, motivation, and skills. The experiences you give your characters can come in handy later on, like the veteran using his status as a war hero to get your protagonists past a checkpoint, or your heroine recognizing the face of someone who was also present for the assassination. The possibilities are endless. Having a detailed history for as much of your world as possible opens up new doors and paths for your story and characters, and the effort it takes is more than worth it.

    Now, when it comes to actually developing the history itself, there are some things to keep in mind. If you’ve already begun to write, it might be best to take what you have and work your way backward. Think about what events could have led to the status quo of your story’s present, and what events could have led to those events, and so forth. History is often a series of chains of events, like dominoes falling on each other for decades and centuries on end. Some of the conflicts and tensions that set our world up for the First World War stretched back to the late middle ages, and would continue on until, at the earliest, the fall of the Soviet Union. By looking at your world’s history in this way, you can develop the events clearly and effectively, and before you know it you have a full timeline.

    You can also work forwards, by setting a date in the past to start and using the “domino mentality” I mention above, but in the position of pushing the dominoes down rather than picking them back up. Look at an event, and think about what the repercussions - long or short term - would be from that event’s outcome. No matter how minor it may seem, any event can create ripples that turn into waves. Just ask Moritz Schiller. If a certain Serbian nationalist hadn’t stopped by his cafe for a meal, Archduke Ferdinand would not have been assassinated, and World War I might not have happened. Working forward could be best if you have not begun to write or don’t have a solid idea for what your story’s plot will be.

    Of course, not every event will be on the same thread of cause and effect. Other, unconnected events will crop up from time to time and start their own chains; be sure not to neglect those. Your timeline will evolve into a web of interconnected and interrelated events, just ripe for referencing at your leisure.



    Part Two: Culture and Society


    It’s very easy to put some elves in your story and describe them monolithically as being tall, fair, long-lived archers who oppose evil but consider themselves above lesser races. However, this has been done to death, and there is nothing novel about it. If you put thought into your story’s cultures, you open your story up to more possibilities.

    No two people are exactly alike, so the same should apply to those who live in your world. Obviously making every person completely unique is impossible and impractical, but portraying everyone in a culture as being almost identical is just as bad. Try to find ways in which your characters go against the values of their cultures, and ways in which they follow them. Take the time, especially, to look at the culture’s values and standards, and the way in which these feed prejudices and bigotries. For example, a hypermasculine warrior culture would likely lend itself to institutionalized misogyny and prejudice against passive individuals. How do these prejudices impact your characters? How do your characters buy into those prejudices? Considering these things can offer new insight into your characters, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

    Ethnic division and other factionalism can also be good ways to develop your cultures and bring your world to life. Our world has many different ethnic groups and cultural differences, and so should yours. Even in fantasy fiction, dividing both your humans and fantasy races into distinct ethnocultural groups makes your story all the more real, and your world all the more interesting.

    The Elder Scrolls series provides a very good example of this: in its world of Nirn, the human and elvish races are divided into several different ethnic and cultural nations, and ethnic groups of the same “race” do not always get along - in the Reach region of Skyrim, the native Bretons and Nords have been locked in a bloody ethnic struggle for years. In the same way, establishing ethnic or cultural tension or conflict in your world not only makes it more realistic, but opens up new story possibilities: perhaps two of your characters are of opposing ethnic groups, providing a source of conflict between them. Perhaps your antagonist wishes to heat a certain ethnic hostility into a full-scale war. Perhaps your heroine is discriminated against due to her heritage. As I have said throughout this lesson, taking the time to think about and develop these details gives your reader a richer, more immersive experiences, and also provides you the author with more options in developing your story than you otherwise would have.


    Part Three: Government and Social Hierarchy


    The last thing we will be discussing today is government and social hierarchy. Establishing the government type of your countries, continents, or world is important, as it can have a great impact on how your setting works, and therefore on your story as a whole.

    Let’s start by looking at a few different kinds of government:

    - Democracy - Not to be confused with republicanism, I refer to democracy here in the sense of direct democracy - that is, a government for and by the people, with no representatives or elected officials. This form of government is the most “free” in a libertarian sense, but may suffer from a tyranny of the majority. A utilitarian character would be fond of this form of government.

    - Republicanism - Representative democracy, of the kind we are most familiar with. This form of government would likely be modeled on the systems of the United States, France, or Great Britain (sans monarchy). These will be most common in more modern settings: in historical or fantastic settings, they will be much rarer or entirely absent.

    - Monarchy - In fantasy fiction, the most common form of government is that of a monarchy. This is sovereignty held by a singular royal figure serving as head of state. There are several possible kinds of monarchy, such as:

    * Absolute monarchy - In this form of monarchy, the monarch exerts total authority over their subjects, likely ruling by decree. This may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the story.
    * Constitutional Monarchy - The monarch is the official head of state but exerts little to no actual influence over the country, which is governed by an otherwise republican body.
    * Electoral monarchy - The monarch does not inherit their throne, but is elected by the nobility or other officials. Real-life examples of this include Vatican City, Malaysia, and the Holy Roman Empire.

    - Socialist state - a state adhering to socialist tenets, whether Marxist in nature or not. Often portrayed as oppressive and dictatorial, though this is not necessarily the case. Egalitarianism is emphasized in this sort of state, and the state’s ultimate goal is a transition to full communism followed by its own abolition.

    - Military junta - a dictatorial state run by the national military. Almost without exception these states will be oppressive and unfree. Frequently, a resistance movement will exist in opposition to the junta.

    These are just a few of the many possible types of governments. Don’t feel like you have to be constrained by them, however. Get creative, and mix and match elements of all of them to produce something new, original, and all your own. An electoral monarchy in which the king is elected by the people, and rules by decree for a fixed term, for example. Or a socialist democracy where the people make the decisions regarding the transition towards communism.

    Giving your characters political philosophies or preferred forms of government is a good way to develop them and give them depth, especially if some of those philosophies are opposing. For example, in Les Miserables, the revolutionary student leader Enjolras is a staunch republican and opposes all forms of monarchism, even the Orleans’ populist breed of it. His partner Marius Pontmercy (who inherited a title of Baron from his father, who received it under Napoleon) is a Bonapartist, which Enjolras views as a form of monarchism. This causes tension between them even as they work work together to stage an uprising in Paris.

    In feudal or monarchical settings, an aristocracy or nobility is sure to exist. These lords and ladies are the top of society, and may be above the law. Aristocrats and nobles may be portrayed as out-of-touch, arrogant, or uncaring of the plight of the common folk - to quote George Jean Nathan, “Common sense, in so far as it exists, is all for the bourgeoisie. Nonsense is the privilege of the aristocracy. The worries of the world are for the common people.” Aristocrats with a populist vision or concern for the common people are the exception, not the rule.

    Aristocrats are ranked by their title and held land, and a noble’s title will indicate their social staus compared to another. This is the basic standard in our world, from lowest to highest:

    - Baronet/Baronetess (rules a baronetcy)
    - Baron/Baroness (rules a barony)
    - Viscount/Viscountess (rules a viscounty)
    - Count or Earl/Countess (rules a county or earldom)
    - Marquess/Marchioness (rules a march)
    - Duke/Duchess (rules a duchy)
    - Prince/Princess (rules a principality)
    - Grand Duke/Grand Duchess (rules a grand duchy)
    - Archduke/Archduchess (rules an archduchy)
    - King/Queen (rules a kingdom)
    - Emperor/Empress (rules an empire)


    You don’t have to stick to this, of course. Make up your own titles (I often use “Magisterial” as a title of peerage in my work), utilize foreign equivalents of titles (e.g. “Jarl” instead of “Earl”), or change around the rankings. Be sure to clearly indicate how the ranks compare to each other, however, so that your audience is not confused.

    Aristocrats will generally belong to a noble family or house, and will identify strongly with that house’s traditions and symbols. Chief among these will be the family’s coat of arms and motto, which demonstrate the iconography and philosophy of that house. The most notable modern example of these details being used to lend characterization is the A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin. In the series, the coats of arms and mottoes of each noble house serve as a recurring motif throughout (wolves and the words "Winter Is Coming" for House Stark, for instance). Rivalries between houses can lend a sense of tension and conflict even in a nominally united aristocracy, and opposing claims to the highest throne of the land can provide a succession war to drive your story.

    It may be useful to make coats of arms for your nobles for reference. A quick, simple, and free resource to do so can be found here.


    Conclusion


    Well, I think I’ve rambled for long enough. Thank you for reading this lesson, and I hope I’ve given you a fair idea of some ways in which you can fill in the blanks, so to speak, of your world, and give it a sense of reality as solid as ours. If just one person comes out of this lesson with a clearer vision of their own world, I think I’ve done my job. I look forward to seeing the kinds of rich, detailed settings that will grace the Fairground now and in the days, weeks, months, and years to come!

    Until Next Time, See Ya!

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    Default Re: Lesson 18: History, Culture and Government in your Stories by Jabberwocky

    Great lesson. I especially agree with the idea of using your characters to tell the story of the history of the world. The example you used was that perhaps the old man in your story was a war vet. This gives you all sorts of options to give depth to the story. The old man gives the author a chance to delve into how the world once was and how it has changed even if the POV character is too young to do it himself.

    Coming Soon...

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    Default Re: Lesson 18: History, Culture and Government in your Stories by Jabberwocky

    And how does this relate to Pokemon? Sorry, but I speak American English, not Commonwealth English.

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    Default Re: Lesson 18: History, Culture and Government in your Stories by Jabberwocky

    Quote Originally Posted by Toutebelle View Post
    And how does this relate to Pokemon? Sorry, but I speak American English, not Commonwealth English.
    I don't speak British English either, yo. I'm from Texas. And this is a guide to writing in general, not just Pokemon fic.

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    Default Re: Lesson 18: History, Culture and Government in your Stories by Jabberwocky

    Quote Originally Posted by Toutebelle View Post
    And how does this relate to Pokemon? Sorry, but I speak American English, not Commonwealth English.
    I think if you are going to write fan fiction, you should make use of the liberties that gives you and make things your own world, not just a carbon copy of the game world. There is no government system in place in the games, there is only history that is related to Pokemon, and that generally just means the legendary ones, so I think creating your own history and your own government and your own royalty or your own class system would make your story not only different from the one that came before it but will also make it a much more interesting and detailed read.

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    Default Re: Lesson 18: History, Culture and Government in your Stories by Jabberwocky

    Regarding on relating to Pokemon world for this topic, I think I'll give my two cents about the governmental body within the Pokemon world, on a Pokemon story I recently started to plan for future writings. (Though currently everything is still under constructions)


    Many of the canonical Pokemon world does not have (or rather say doesn't explain) any sort of plausible governmental system within its universe. Even the Pokemon Special manga that it explicitly explained the Pokemon Association behind all the Pokemon-related governing and Pokemon-battle-related administrations, IMO it still lacks the feasibility in terms of real-world standard.

    Therefore, I planned to have my Pokemon story having real-world democratic government, where there exists a regional government within each region. It will be like the United State government, where there are state government for each state, and a federal government for the overall country. Though, within my Pokemon world, regional government is more important, the federal government will not be even mentioned in the story, though it does exist within my universe.
    Regarding on the governing of Pokemon trainers and administrations of every single Pokemon-battle related issues, there is the International Pokemon Battle Association (abbr. as IPBA) that is responsible to dealt with all the issues related to Pokemon battles and Pokemon trainers. It is somehow similar to FIFA in the real-world that is the international association specifically for football, IPBA is the international association specifically for Pokemon battles within my story. It is not part of the regional government, where IPBA has no control over the developments of the region and administration of non-Pokemon-related public affairs, but it does have large amount of authorities when it comes to anything that is Pokemon related. Other than the most obvious of directing the constructions of gyms and league facilities, it also provide public services such as Pokemon centres, renovating the official Pokemon battle system constantly, its personnel also sometimes appears as judges for Pokemon-related crimes.

    Then for the Pokemon trainers, especially the ones which possess the trainer card that is an identification document saying the Pokemon trainer is officially registered under IPBA, they are a kind of sport athletes subjected to the official battle rules set by IPBA, and possess admittance to participate in gym/league battles and free usage of Pokemon centre. People can be Pokemon trainers even without a trainer card, but those are like hobbyists where it will have many kind of disadvantages when it comes to actual operations, so 90% of the civilians that possess at least one Pokemon will go apply for trainer card just for the sake of convenience. But will they all go out to travel the region and collect badges in order to gain admittance to participate in Pokemon League, it will all depends on the interest of the individuals.

    And as I had said, within my planned Pokemon story, Pokemon battle is a kind of sport, hence official Pokemon trainers are bound to the official battling rules set by IPBA. But since Pokemon battle is a rather dangerous sport, its rules are mostly set in a way to maximize the safety of the Pokemon trainers (though not much for the Pokemon itself). And of course such rules are completely meaningless towards people who are not going to follow right from the start, such as the criminals. I'm not going to list the specific battle rules created by IPBA in here, because it is rather indefinite, and I had not yet finish in the planning process.

    Ah, and BTW, within my planned story, how trainer can become a gym leaders will be quite different from that in the anime nor in Special manga, nor in Shudo Takeshi's anime novelization books. They are not public servants elected by individuals, nor just a trainer with experience and skills a little higher than average, they will not just become a gym leader by passing a very simple test. In my story, in order for one to become a gym leader, one need to be in apprenticeship under any of the official gym for at least one year, and then pass several different tests set by IPBA, and then one may become a gym leader depending on the overall result. That is because gym leader is not only giving challenges to the traveling trainers, but also to give Pokemon-battle related advice to the peoples in the designated town/city, and sometimes need to give help if there is any Pokemon related crime happened within his/her working town/city, their responsibilities is sometimes much higher than elite four and champions, where the latters are actually like freelancers. But on the opposite, elite four and champions had rather much higher influence within IPBA itself.


    Then for any researches and scientific studies related to Pokemon, there is the Pokemonn Academic Society (abbr. as PAS) for these things. They will be responsible for any sort of studies related to Pokemon, and even give instructions provided that any catastrophic disasters happened due to any actions of Pokemon. PAS has no control to anything related to Pokemon battles, but they are sometimes there to give suggestions to IPBA as well, for anything like Pokemon health problem issues, the efficient and safety Pokemon battle system suggestions, or even to debate the never-ending issue of hazard towards Pokemon cause by life-endangering battling, etc.


    Within my Pokemon world that I planned for this future story, Pokemon trainer is not an easy job as it portrayed in any of the canon materials. Yes, although one may start to officially owning one's very own Pokemon at the beginning age of 10, but the responsibilities behind owning a Pokemon is much much MUCH higher than one may expect. Trainers are not there just to strengthen the Pokemon for battle, but he/she is also responsible to take daily caring of it, and must be careful of the possible life-danger towards Pokemon during battle if one doesn't want his/her Pokemon die due to overkilling attacks by the opponents. Many of the not very skilled trainers will eventually give up to be "Pokemon trainers" as they realize and over-pressurized by the hidden responsibilities and moral contradictions behind it.


    ====================================================

    Pokemon battles is a kind of important culture within any kind of Pokemon universe, and also many of its governmental body will somehow had some relationship with Pokemon. What I do now is just to define such culture and governmental body in a more realistic and accurate sense.

    This lesson is definitely usable even for Pokemon fandom.
    Last edited by クリスタル; 3rd May 2014 at 08:09 AM.
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    Default Re: Lesson 18: History, Culture and Government in your Stories by Jabberwocky

    Quote Originally Posted by AceTrainer14 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Toutebelle View Post
    And how does this relate to Pokemon? Sorry, but I speak American English, not Commonwealth English.
    I think if you are going to write fan fiction, you should make use of the liberties that gives you and make things your own world, not just a carbon copy of the game world. There is no government system in place in the games, there is only history that is related to Pokemon, and that generally just means the legendary ones, so I think creating your own history and your own government and your own royalty or your own class system would make your story not only different from the one that came before it but will also make it a much more interesting and detailed read.
    I do. My Pokemon fanfics actually do that. I just didn't understand if this could be applied to Pokemon fanfics. My characters don't usually discuss politics. Still, I'll keep your article in mind.

    I actually know quite a bit about royalty. I've done research on many royal dynasties, such as the Bourbons, the Habsburgs, the Ottomans, and the Romanovs, among others.

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    Default Re: Lesson 18: History, Culture and Government in your Stories by Jabberwocky

    Quote Originally Posted by Toutebelle View Post
    And how does this relate to Pokemon? Sorry, but I speak American English, not Commonwealth English.
    Frankly, in-game and in the show, there isn't much of a government in any of the regions, and it's fairly strange. If you want a remotely realistic story, it couldn't hurt to flesh out the government a little.
    My fan theory - the regions shown in the games/anime are peaceful and scarcely need any governing body outside the Pokemon League because of Pokemon. Pokemon would radically alter and shape the culture and structure of society, and in these societies, the sport of Pokemon training created lasting, effective peace. But this peace and lack of government has allowed criminal organizations and cults to run rampant. The price of anarchism, I guess.

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    Default Re: Lesson 18: History, Culture and Government in your Stories by Jabberwocky

    I start with the idea of the Pokémon League(s) as being the major political institutions. The Champions would be the highest-ranked politician figures, then the Elite Four, then the Gym Leaders. Protecting the populace from the depredations of wild Pokémon set the League(s) up as the major governing establishments. Someone who challenges the League rule, perhaps through the use of weapons that make it so humans don't have to rely on the protection of the Gym Leader/League, would be a fine way of doing a bit of worldbuilding with the plot itself. Our objector could be something of a communist in encouraging egalitarianism in terms of organizing a resistance: choosing the best, turning a blind eye to gender and ethnicity. Others could work together to earn the leader's favor and thus further set up a communist-like system. Agents of self-determination breed groups like the Rockets, while others like Aqua and Magma could well be founded by someone disgruntled with League policy, and thus decides to use environmental extremism to alter said policy.

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