Sources of Power and the Importance of Conflict

Something I like to consider when I’m worldbuilding is where the power is being exerted – from whom, on what, and how. The form that it takes can really inform the sort of society that lives around it, and of course it plays a big role in the conflict of a story.

What Purpose Does Conflict Serve?

Conflict is the most essential story element. Yes, I am making that wild claim, but hear me out. Not only is it what makes a world or story interesting, it’s what creates change or momentum. When two things clash, one will be changed by the other. Whether it’s two forces of nature or two armies. Regardless of who wins and who loses, it changes the status quo. All good stories are about change. All good worlds are impacted by a variety of forces. Conflict is essential when trying to create something compelling. Without some sort of conflict there is no story.

How Does Power Influence That?

It gives one side an advantage when trying to create change. Obviously this can be quite literal where some forms are concerned. It doesn’t always involve the same types of power against each other either. In a story of rebellion, for example, the governing body may possess all of the political power, but the rebellion may have to use another – societal power, for example. Or if its a fantasy story, it might even be magical. But when a character has some sort of power, it usually falls into one (or more) of several categories.

What Are the Sources of Power?

  1. Magical: This is my favourite type of power, simply because the rules and parameters can change depending in how the magic system is constructed. It might be that innate magical talent gives someone more power over another. Or the magic itself might be entirely without the ability to control and harness, and so has very little to add to the power dynamic.
  2. Physical: A little more primitive, but this refers to actual strength and physical capability. If one person is stronger than someone else, they have more power to exert over a situation because they can physically overpower their adversaries.
  3. Political: Power given by the state, law, governing body, etc. Also includes Kingship and the like, though that can also involve a secondary power – Magical, Physical, Religious, etc.
  4. Religious: Divine power, whether from some sort of deity or religious figurehead, or from an institution itself, though that can lean more into the political sort if you’re not careful.
  5. Military: The strength, skill and numbers of an army. Military power can also involve politics.
  6. Cultural/Societal: The power of people as a group, either their influence as a society or the impact of a cultural tradition or practice.

To some extent all of these will be at play, but I generally like to focus on one or two in my worldbuilding and bring them to the forefront. I think it makes the whole process a little neater and less overwhelming, especially at the beginning. What you choose to focus on will depend on what sort of world you’re trying to build.

You might also have noticed that many of them overlap with other types. It’s important to keep that in mind – you’re never limited to just one type. And the more power someone has, the more justified they may seem to hold that position of power, and the harder it becomes to remove them.

Have More to Add?

Coming at worldbuilding from this angle helps to create a living world, where the pieces and characters in play can create change. I think it can be an interesting dynamic to consider when building, but I tend to come at these things with a very narrative-centric way of thinking.

Are there any types of power that I’ve missed? How do you involve types of power and conflict into your worldbuilding? I’d love to hear from you! Let me know down below!

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