Did you have a good weekend? Did you celebrate Independence Day (July 4th) or Canada Day (July 1st)?
I grew up in a Detroit suburb, so Canada didn’t seem like a separate country. They spoke English, the signs were in English. (Only later, the signs were in French, too.) We easily drove across the Ambassador Bridge or through the tunnel where we were asked a few questions, like how long are you staying, where are you going? (This was all pre-9/11.) My sisters and I often went shopping for the day. In fact, I got my wedding crystal in a china shop there.
This time of year, our family often drove over to Windsor for the fireworks that took place on the Detroit River as a joint celebration.
As a youngster, I assumed our governments were the same. Until the day Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip came to Windsor. Maybe that’s when I realized our governments were different. We had a president and they had a queen, along with a prime minister.
In writing science fiction stories, I need to figure out how the worlds in which my characters lived are governed. I’m sort of a pantser. I get an idea, and I start writing. I keep writing until something stops me, and I have to plot or need to do research or figure out where in the universe I am.
When I wrote the first book in the Outer Rim series, The Pilot, I had a lot to figure out: where does the story take place; if it’s a planet, where is that planet in relation to others; are those planets connected by a government; what type, etc. How important is that? Does it affect the characters? Once I worked all that out for the first book, the others came much easier—one of the reasons I love writing series.
The author usually knows much more than s/he puts in the book. Think of an iceberg. The story only contains that which appears above the waterline, whereas the author knows everything.
In the Outer Rim series, the stories take place, mostly, out on the frontier of space. This is what I write at the beginning of each book in the series:
The Rim is the home of stout-hearted individuals. Pioneers eager to make their fortunes. Nonconformists who want to be left alone. Escapees from the establishment or from the law. People who reinvent themselves with new names and life histories. From primitive settlements to established colonies to cities, the Rim is the place of fantasies and dreams.
So, if these people wanted to escape the establishment, I needed to figure out what that establishment was. I decided there would be a central government that ruled a Coalition of Planets. I thought of concentric circles spreading out from the main planet where the central government was located.
As the writer, I needed to know how that government worked. My readers only needed to know what affected the characters. In The Pilot, the male protagonist’s (Trevarr) mother is the president of the Coalition of Planets. When that fact is revealed, I didn’t need to give a history lesson on the Central Government. Readers know what a president is. That was enough, at that time in the story. Later, I alluded to the fact that his father had been Chief Representative. That tells the reader the Coalition of Planets were ruled by a representative government with a president. Again, that was enough.
I knew more, of course, but I try to be scarce with details that smart readers can figure out. As the occasion warrants, I dribble out enough details so my readers aren’t lost, and not too much that their eyes glaze over.
In an ironic twist to what I just wrote, my middle grade science fiction adventure, Rescuing Mara's Father, begins in school with a lecture on different forms of government. The female protagonist, Mara, is bored out of her mind and shows it. 😊
A government is only one small part of world building. Have fun developing your world.