As a writer, you want your audience to feel immersed in the world you create. Let’s explore some essentials worldbuilding questions in this article.
As storytellers, we have vivid imaginations that can develop worlds no one else has ever imagined. It can be challenging to take the pictures in our minds and translate what we see into words to paint a picture for our readers. This can be especially challenging when worldbuilding for writing fantasy and science fiction stories and other genres that require the development of a fictional world.
If you’re struggling with worldbuilding as a writer, you’re not alone. The process of painting a picture for readers requires many steps, from character development to an accurate understanding of real-life historical events. Building a seemingly real-world environment for readers can take time, and it’s important to ask yourself worldbuilding questions to help you create a belief system that feels real to your readers.
If you’re working to develop your story’s world to make your writing real to your readers, you’re already on the right track. As part of our storytelling guide series, check out the following series of questions for some guidance on how to bring your sci-fi, fantasy, time travel, and genre fiction writing to life.
- 1. What Does Your World Look Like?
- 2. Do The Rules Of Our World Apply?
- 3. What Do Characters Believe?
- 4. What Is A Typical Day Like For Your Characters?
- 5. How Is Conflict Handled In Your Fantasy Or Science Fiction World?
- 6. Do Your Characters Go Through Formal, Required Education?
- 7. How Does Financial Status Impact Your Character’s World Experience?
- 8. What Is the Magic System For Your World?
- FAQs About WorldBuilding Questions
1. What Does Your World Look Like?
Before writing a story outline, close your eyes and imagine your main character’s world. It can be helpful to relax and set a timer to allow yourself to fully relax and immerse yourself in the new world where your characters will live.
Don’t worry about getting it perfect, avoiding tropes, or figuring out the social customs of your world just yet. For now, focus solely on what you see as you imagine your characters going through their daily lives. Imagine both the indoor and outdoor aspects of your character’s world, and picture what they see as they travel through each day.
After your timer is up, take a few moments to write down what you saw in your fantasy world. Remember, you can always come back and change aspects of the story later. Right now, you’re working to set the framework in which your story will develop.
2. Do The Rules Of Our World Apply?
Science fiction and fantasy writers need to consider whether the real-world rules apply to their fantasy world. In a story, it’s important to decide whether the world has any congruency with the real world, or whether it has its own world history, customs, gender roles, natural resources, social classes, and other factors (consider the world created by J. R. R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings—the middle Earth world embodied some aspects of our society, while changing others).
You’ll also want to consider whether literal rules—laws—that apply in our world apply in your fantasy world. Unless you explicitly explain the rules and laws of your story set, readers will imagine that the rules of their own world apply. The science-fiction writer N.K. Jameson recently told Wired about this process:
“People go into creating a world that is not like ours with their embedded assumptions about how our world works still firmly in place. So they end up creating our world but with tentacle sharks. If you are going to go into this completely alien world still thinking like a modern 2019 American, then you’re not doing your job as a creator.”
3. What Do Characters Believe?
Belief tends to guide society. It’s important to decide whether your characters have gods (like in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones), believe in magic (like in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter), or believe in something different altogether. When you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, you have an unlimited ability to create a completely different belief system than anything that’s relevant to the real world.
Much like the visual effects of your world, remember, you can always return to change your character’s beliefs if the storyline necessitates such a revision. Keep your character’s beliefs in mind as you weave your story, and work to ensure that their actions are consistent with their values and morals.
4. What Is A Typical Day Like For Your Characters?
You’ll want to paint a detailed picture of present-day life in your fantasy world. This will help your readers understand how your storyline is a switch from the day-to-day norm your characters experience.
When developing the daily schedule of your characters, it can be helpful to work through your own daily life and consider how the life of your characters would be different.
Questions to ask when creating a typical day for your characters may include:
- How much sleep do your characters get?
- What time do they go to bed, and when do they wake up?
- What do they do to prepare for the day ahead? Shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, talk with family, commute, etc.?
- Do your characters work? If so, what is their work environment like? Do they enjoy their job?
- Does your character work out or engage in hobbies? It’s important that their leisure pursuits support the image of your character. If your protagonist is built like a superhero, they should be hitting the gym or engaging in another form of physical exercise to create a believable storyline.
- What does your character eat?
- Does your character engage in any religious practices?
- Do your characters generally spend time alone or are they surrounded by friends and family?
5. How Is Conflict Handled In Your Fantasy Or Science Fiction World?
You’ll want to consider how characters in your story deal with conflict as it arises, and it’s important for readers to know whether your characters stay within social norms when they handle disagreements. If your world is a peaceful society, it will be a stark change from the norm if one of your characters decides to pick a fight with another character. If your world is a war-driven society, it would be surprising if one of your characters chooses not to fight out a conflict.
When developing a new world, consider how societal norms affect our current world. Think about what would change if societal norms were different. When you’re creating a fantasy world, you have the option to drive society whatever way you see fit—or most interesting.
6. Do Your Characters Go Through Formal, Required Education?
Education shapes the way people interact with one another. If all of your characters have gone through a similar education, the way that they interact will be different than if only some of your characters had a formal education. You may also choose to have no formal education system at all, rather, have your characters learn through life’s lessons.
If your characters are adults, simple references to childhood education may be all that you need to set the scene for how your characters have been prepared for life as adults. You may also want to consider how social standing affects your character’s education levels. In many societies, people with more money have an easier time making their way to higher education. Some fantasy societies (such as those in the Divergent series by Vanessa Roth) differentiate education based on a person’s innate abilities.
7. How Does Financial Status Impact Your Character’s World Experience?
You’ll need to consider whether your world has a financial system similar to what your readers are used to, or if your readers will need to learn about a new form of currency. Be sure to show your readers how your character’s financial status affects their worldview. If your character grew up with the money, they’ll likely have a different view than a character who grew up in a family that struggled to make ends meet. This can hugely affect the way your characters approach problems in their world.
If you need help creating believable stories, you may find our Neil Gaiman Masterclass review helpful.
8. What Is the Magic System For Your World?
Genre fiction often employs magic as a means of crafting a world that readers can escape into. It’s helpful to decide upfront what the rules of this magic system are so that readers understand how it works. Even if you’re writing science-fiction, it’s still useful to determine how your characters use science and technology in a way that readers can comprehend and which drives the plot forwards. In short, a good magic system or piece of technology is consistently deployed by the writer throughout a good piece of genre fiction. The author doesn’t simply make up a special power or give a character a spell or a piece of technology, at the end of the story to conclude things.
FAQs About WorldBuilding Questions
Is it ok to make up my world as I go through the story?
It’s best to have a solid sense of your world before you get started with your story, as this can drive the way your characters interact. If you need to go back and change parts of your world as you go through the character development process, be sure that your changes are congruent with the rest of your story.
Do I need to detail every aspect of my world when I write?
Not necessarily. There’s no need to describe your world to a point that interferes with your story, but your readers should have a solid view of where your characters live and interact. It can be helpful to have someone else read your story to see if they have questions about the world you’ve created.