Questions to ask yourself – Part 1: Worldbuilding

Fleshing out a new narrative? Fine tuning the physical and cultural landscape of your setting? Use this list of questions to firm up the scaffolding behind your story—a great exercise for writers of speculative and historical fiction. You don’t need to answer every question below. Focus on the questions you find helpful to develop your plot, characters, and world.

By Eric Maika

Part 1: Worldbuilding

World build advice for writers — questions to ask yourself as you develop your narrative. Great writing advice for fantasy and science fiction authors.

How do you define power in this world? What is it?

How should power be used, from a moral or philosophical standpoint?

How is power actually used in this story (in contrast to how it should be used)?

Who should have power, but doesn’t?

What stops people from good behavior? What are the hazards and flaws of the society?

What social values inspire good or bad behavior?

How do people conduct manufacturing? Agriculture? Trade?

What is at stake for this society during the story's timeline? What does it stand to gain or lose?

What happens to the world/society if the villain(s) win?

What is the political situation? Method of governance?

Hunting practices?

Tool-making skills?

Building techniques?

Clothing creation?

Plant knowledge?

Animal knowledge?

Weapon creation and importance?

What is the generally accepted knowledge of the physical world?

How is parenting done?

Mating rituals and sexual choices?

Societal organization?

System or rewards, punishment, justice?

Social taboos?

Social rituals?

Methods of self-regulation?

Economic strategies — how they plan for the future?

Beliefs about the unseen/spiritual (Gods, germs, angels, karma, gravity)?

Language, word meanings, dialect?

How did history affect the evolution, anatomy, physiology, and psychology of the world or society (e.g. early human hunting led to long-distance runners and accurate throwers)?

Do ordinary people have misconceptions about how the world actually works?

What are the natural settings your scenes will take place in?

What are the artificial spaces?

What technology is used by characters, and which characters get to use which technology?

How does the story world change as the protagonist changes?

How does the story world dramatize the opposition?

How does the story world dramatize one extreme of the moral argument?

How does the story world dramatize the other extreme of the moral argument?

How is the protagonist a fish-out-of-water in the story world?

How is the protagonist a slave to the way the world currently is?

How is this slavery an expression of the protagonist's greatest weakness? 

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Click here for Questions to ask yourself – Part 2: The Protagonist

World building advice for writers — questions to ask as you develop your novel's setting

Born in tourist trap, Ontario, Eric Maika moved to Victoria at age 26 and lives there with his life partner still. A lifelong learner, he is a biologist by education and a writer by necessity of imagination. He currently works in telemedicine. Accomplishments include beating Mega Man 1 and writing this biography. Check out his blog here.

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