Currently, I’m working on finishing up and editing the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2015, and one of my big focuses has been world building. For me, one of the most enthralling components of any fantasy novel is the world building. How easy is it to picture this place? How realistic does it feel? The better the author builds up the world the more it enriches the story. The hard part is figuring out how to build up that world, and decide what you need to think about to do it. And so to help myself I compiled a list of questions, which I figured I would share in case it’s helpful to anyone else.
You can organize this anyway you want. I ended up doing something that more resembled a Wikipedia article, but you could just go through and answer the questions. I wouldn’t bother with answering all the questions, just fill out the ones relevant to your story. Here’s an example of the structure I used for organization*:
- Composition and History
- Settlements/Territories – what are referred to as cities are actually large territories, often with a core market/trade area, but not always
- Natural Resources
- Building Goods
- Witches – Old World
- Witches – New World
- Social Constructs
- Language – by area (one language separated by accents and terminology)
- Social Hierarchy
- Religion – by area
- Government and Politics
- Political Structure
- Old World Witches
- New World Witches
- Mortal Government
- The Magic Trade
- Law Enforcement
- Political Structure
*I actually used a 1.0, 1.1, 1.1.1 numbering system but WordPress doesn’t seem to like that very much…
World Building Questions for Writing
Composition and History
Where is this world? Is it an alternate universe, a universe alongside ours, or a new universe altogether?
What kinds of creatures exist here? What are they like?
What type of landscape/terrain exists?
Which natural resources are plentiful and which are scarce?
Are there any prominent diseases or conditions?
What kind of food exists or grows here? Is it natural? manufactured?
Where do people live? What kinds of structures?
How much of the world is safe/uninhabitable? What makes some areas unsafe?
How long has this world been in existence? Are these times divided? e.g. BC, AD, etc.
What is the climate like? Is it the same throughout, different in different areas?
What languages are spoken here? Which are the most popular, which are the least popular?
What is the social hierarchy? Are the rich at the top? Or is there some other traits that marks other above?
What religions exist? Which are the most popular, which are the least popular?
What deities exist in this world? What power do or don’t they have? (suggested by fantasy author @SchmidtJesper)
What is the family structure?
What is the age of autonomy/independence? Why?
What sorts of traits might mark an outsider of typical social circles?
What different cultures exist? How are they separated? By area, race, belief, etc.
What are some cultural traditions that exist?
How is sexuality defined and treated in this world? Is it different in different areas?
Are there any creation stories or common myths told?
How do people spend their spare time? What are some hobbies or sports?
Government and Politics
What is the political structure (e.g. monarchy, democracy, etc.)? Was the structure different at different times?
What is the form of currency here? If there is one.
Who enforces the law?
How are violators of the law punished?
Is their war between certain areas? What about? What is the nature of the warfare?
How to citizens contribute to the economy? What happens to citizens that cannot work?
What kind of healthcare structure is in place?
What is the level of technology? Modern, prehistoric, etc.
How do people get around from place to place? What are the forms of transportation?
How is technology integrated into the society? Is it prevalent like cell phones? Or only used by some people like trades workers?
Who has access to technology? Only the rich? Only the intelligent?
How is technology used predominantly or scarcely? For industry, entertainment, etc.
What kind of education is available? What’s the educational hierarchy?
How much does it cost to get education? Or is it free?
What does a typical education consist of?
What are the levels of education? How far can you go in your studies?
Who has access to education?
Do you have any suggestions of questions for this list? Please comment and let me know! I’ll add it to the list and give you credit.