Welcome to world building. I really wanted to talk about this because it applies to all genres of fiction. No matter where you are placing your story, you’re going to have to make it real to your readers. This can be a little tricky when you’re basing your setting somewhere that a lot of people know about, like New York City, for instance.
So, we’re going to take a a week or so and break everything down into certain sections. I do want to dedicate a post to setting – setting is what we’re doing here essentially. I’d also like to look at fantasy/sci-fi vs. other genres in a world building sense.
Either way, I did want to leave you with a list of questions that you should consider as you’re thinking about building a world that doesn’t exist. You do not need to have the answer to every single question show up in your story, but you, as the author, should know the answer to every single question.
- Do you know the general layout of your world? Do you have some sort of loose map of it in your head? Where do different places lie in relation to others?
- How does the location of different landmarks and countries influence their trade?
- How does the climate and terrain differ in different regions of your world?
- How does the climate and terrain affect those living in those environments? And what happens when the environment changes (due to natural changes or other)? How does it affect the livelihoods of the people who live there?
- What are the weather patterns like? Are certain locations more vulnerable to certain elements of nature?
- What plants grow in which areas? Do any of them have any special properties?
- What wildlife is common in which areas?
- How many people are living in this world? How does this affect the world?
- Are your names based upon certain cultures?
- Do they translate to something?
- Does the name fit the world and cultures you’ve built into it, or will it your reader find it jarring?
- How are troops obtained? Through conscription or voluntary enlistment?
- Who are the country’s allies? Why are they allied with them? Are the allies happy with the arrangement?
- Is the country at war, or close to it? Why? With who?
- What are the key military fighting techniques?
- Are there any noteworthy weapons or transports?
- What branch of the military excels? Do they have a particularly strong army, navy, etc.?
- What about previous wars, alliances, and treaties? What prompted them? How did they influence interacting cultures, countries, and warfare?
- Is there any sort of public education, or is schooling reserved for the wealthy?
- How about books? Do “peasants” and the middle-class have access to them, or are they solely in libraries– at schools and in wealthy estates?
- Is it common to know how to read?
- What are the basic tasks and facts people learn as children? Does it differ between genders? How about between social classes?
- Are studies valued, or looked down upon culturally (generally speaking)?
- Is the government a monarchy? A democracy? A republic? Does this change per region?
- What pros and cons are there in the political system for your characters?
- Are your characters satisfied with the system or are they ready to rebel?
- Who are some past noteworthy rulers or government officials? Who do the citizens remember now? And why are they remembered?
- Is there an essential governing document (like the U.S.’s Constitution)?
- Is it largely a patriarchal or matriarchal society? Or does it attempt equality?
- What’s the currency?
- How is incarceration determined? Is there any sort of court system?
- What about capital punishment? Are people regularly executed– and what are the capital crimes? How about the method of execution?
- What are the most important laws of the land? What laws are particularly unique to your world?
- Related to the above topic of government, does religion have a place in the government or is there a separation between the two entities?
- Are religious practices mandated by the state? Do those who don’t comply– or those who have a different belief system– face persecution?
- What do people believe in this religion? What myths surround it?
- Is the religion monotheistic? Polytheistic?
- Are there holy texts? Scriptures?
- What practices or services do worshipers attend? What’s entailed in them?
- Who are the religious officials?
- Are there particular holy days to note?
- Is there magic? If yes, how does it work?
- Are magic users accepted, feared or persecuted?
- What can magic do and not do?
- Do only an elite group use magic or is it accessible to all? Do you need to specialize in magic or can commoners use it as well?
- Are there any magical creatures? If so, describe them.
- Is magic a learned skill or an innate talent?
- What is the price/cost of using magic?
- Do magicians need to meet any specific criteria? Be celibate? Go through a ritual?
- Does magic requires tools and props?
- How is one magician stronger than another?
- Can magic be combined to increase its strength?
- What defeats magic?
- Is any magic illegal?
- What is magic most commonly used for?
- What denotes status in this world?
- How does courting work?
- What traditions are there surrounding life milestones (birthdays, weddings, births, deaths…)?
- Are there particular superstitions?
- What are the fashions like? The trends? What influences (modesty, climate, status) does it have?
- What’s the architecture like?
- What’s the food and drink like?
- Are there any special festivals that people attend?
- What are the typical gathering places for inhabitants of the world when they have spare time?
- Are there national or regional stereotypes at play? How are they dealt with?
- Is gender binary, non-binary or something else?
- What are the dominate social norms and practices?
- Are there primary social conventions and practices that your civilization shares?
- What type(s) of technology do they have?
- How do the lower classes live?
- How do they make livings?
- Are there any races other than human living in this world?
- How did/will your civilization develop? Is it at a point of increasing or decreasing social stability and peace?
- What core details in the past (conflicts, discoveries, encounters with other peoples) shaped your civilization?
- What does the future look like for your characters? Is their society moving towards a Utopian age or is hardship and strife worsening? What is driving either change? (E.g. foolhardy environmental destruction)
- (*Side note: Don’t be afraid to draw on our world to help shape your history. It’ll flesh out your history and make it a bit more real for your readers as they can sympathize with what’s going on. George R.R. Martin does this in his Game of Thrones Series.*)
*Side note: I want to give credit to Jennifer Ellison, J.S. Morin, Novel-Software.com and NowNovel.com for the questions they posted to help with world building. Their contributions are in the list above.* Here’s a link to Novel-Software.com so you an check out their full list of questions.
When you have answered all of these questions, then think about them for every other region that you have in your new world. Essentially, how does this all change per region?
That’s it and that’s all that I have for you today! I do have a break post coming up on Thursday that will outline the details of a writing contest you should check out. After that, we’ll start with our world building series and we’ll take a deeper look at the genres of science fiction and fantasy along with setting.