When writing short stories or novels, many writers focus most of their attention on creating realistic characters—fleshing them out, making sure they’re different from one another, and giving them goals and wants and flaws. While three-dimensional characters are essential to a story, be careful you don’t overlook another important element: the setting! At Writer’s Relief, we know the term “world building” is often used by writers of fantasy and sci-fi. But an immersive, interesting setting doesn’t have to be limited to those genres! Writers in any genre can take a few tips from the pages of sci-fi writers’ notebooks to create an immersive fiction world. Here are 30 world-building questions fiction authors can use to make settings more compelling and interesting.
30 World-Building Questions For All Fiction Authors
Not every question may apply to your particular story or novel, but this list is a good place to start when creating the world your characters live in. And you might discover that a question you hadn’t considered before will add an interesting twist or element to your story!
- What is the geographical layout of your world? What are the geographical parameters of where the story takes place?
- What climate patterns exist in your world? How do they influence the people who live there or the events of the story?
- What plants and animals inhabit your world? Anything extraordinary or relevant to the plot?
- How do people travel in your world?
- How is society organized? What sort of power structures or hierarchies exist?
- What social and economic classes exist? How do they interact with each other?
- What’s the history of your setting? How did it come to be, and how did your characters come to live there? How long has it existed?
- What different cultures exist, and how do they interact with each other? What are their customs/traditions? Values?
- What work do most people spend their days doing? What sort of jobs exist, if any?
- How does trade/commerce work? What kind of money (if any) is present?
- What technology does this world have access to, if any? How many people have access to the tech?
- What is the political landscape like?
- What religious/spiritual beliefs do the inhabitants of your world have?
- What languages are spoken in your world? How many different ones are there, and who (if anyone) knows multiple and can translate or move between them?
- What are the social norms like? Cultural values and ethics? How do these things influence how people interact?
- Are there any forbidden practices or highly illegal acts (outside of what could easily be inferred as immoral/illegal, like murder)? What are the consequences of breaking these rules?
- How is education structured? How important or unimportant is it? Does everyone have access to it?
- If there is anything supernatural in your world, what are its rules and limitations?
- How are art and entertainment present in your world? Are artistic creators valued?
- What sources of conflict or tension exist in your setting? Think macro or micro.
- How does gender/sexuality fit into your world? Are the genders equal? What sorts of cultural norms and attitudes surround these topics?
- How do characters communicate over long distances or with many people at once?
- How long has the current power structure been in place, and who (if anyone) is working to bring it down? Why?
- What is the overall quality of life like for most of your world’s inhabitants?
- Does the military have any influence in your world? If so, how powerful/important is it?
- Are there any current conflicts/wars going on? If so, what are they about? How long have they been going on?
- Is food scarce or abundant? What do most people eat? What do the rich/powerful people eat?
- What do the cities look like, if there are any? What kinds of architecture exist? What sort of homes do most people live in?
- What’s the fashion like? What kind of clothing do most people wear?
- If you had to describe your world in five words, what would they be?
Even if some of the things you learn from these questions never make it into the final version of your draft, the setting you ultimately create with this input will strengthen your story and keep your readers engaged and interested.
And when you’ve finished writing, editing, proofing, and polishing your short story or novel, we can help you send it out into the publishing world! Our research experts will pinpoint the best markets for your writing to boost your odds of getting published. Learn more about our services for writers, and send in your writing sample today!
Question: What other questions would you add to this list to help writers build their fictional worlds?