I have been fortunate to come across a lot of writers who love to “worldbuild”. These are the writers who spend hours, days, months and even years to create and build an alternative fictional setting that live by unique rules and dilemmas. I too, enjoy the hobby, and have also had the pleasure to edit work for clients who enjoy worldbuilding too. However, over the time I have noticed that some writers can sometimes feel a little lost or overwhelmed with their creation. Sometimes it can take effort to step back and consider new perspectives or ideas. Here are one hundred worldbuilding questions for you to consider. These questions are purposefully unusual to help really get you thinking.
Please note that for the sake of simplicity in this blog post I have identified the worldbuilder’s audience to be a ‘reader’, however I hope other worldbuilders will find this blog post just as useful.
Animals & Beasts
- Do people eat animals in your world? If so, what do they eat? Do they hunt or grow livestock? How difficult is it to do this?
- Are pets common in this world? If so, what kind? Are they docile or can they be dangerous?
- Are there any beasts nearby that people are wary of? Why? Are these reasons illogical or do they carry truth?
- What kind of insects, fish and amphibians does your world include? These animal groups are most likely to be forgotten in fantasy settings. Also consider thinking outside the box of biological stratification too!
- What does your custom animal or beast eat? How do they usually behave? What kind of varieties may they come in?
- What impact does the local wildlife have on culture and society? Are they associated with any local customs or festivals?
- Have there been any animals, beasts or wildlife that have recently become extinct? If so, what are the consequences?
- Do flying creatures allow for aerial travel? This could have a big impact on your world, influencing trade, technology and way of life.
- Are animals and beasts used for warfare?
- What are the largest animals in your world?
- Do the animals and beasts go through any bizarre life cycles? (Imagine customising your own version of the caterpillar cycle, or the tadpole cycle.)
Many worldbuilders enjoy making bestiaries that are long and very detailed. For writers, this can take a very long time. Because of this many writers prefer to strategically plan ahead so that only animals or beasts that concern the plot are planned. Or alternatively, writers may find that they worldbuild when they write. Either of these options are equally valid.
Architecture & Buildings
- Where do the locals find the materials used to make the housing? For example, if you use glass windows, have you made sure your world has the technology to make glass?
- Who builds the housing? Does the community work together, do large companies build many of the houses at once or does the individual make their own house? (Or do they move into houses that have always been there?)
- What does ‘cheap’ housing look like? What does expensive housing look like?
- Are the buildings well-constructed? Do they keep the heat in? How will a character feel when they enter the building throughout the seasons?
- Are there any common smells that lurk in buildings? For example, the smell of burnt rubber, mead, bread, ash, dew, etc.
- How do the buildings vary from city to city?
- Are there any religious buildings? How are they made? Are there any religious rules or customs in regards to building these? I.E, there must be a rack outside for shoes, only white flowers to be planted in hanging baskets by the walls, holy scriptures painted on every brick, etc.
- How do the buildings manage sound? I have found many writers make the mistake of describing the sound of echoing footsteps in buildings that are crowded.
- Are there any common features with the local architecture that can vary from place to place? Does your culture favour particular shapes, patterns or building material?
- Are there any buildings within the culture that serve an unusual or unexpected function?
- Is there a building in the society to mourn the dead?
You don’t need to describe what every building looks like. Many readers will make assumptions based on previous descriptions. Try to capture what aspects of architecture are common in your world, and weave them through observations made by characters. For example, if it’s snowing, you could describe how the green roofs turn white, etc.
- Who makes the clothing? Is it handmade, or factory produced?
- What kind of material is the clothing made from? Are there any exotic materials that are popular or regarded highly by society? Can clothing give magical benefits, and if so, what are they?
- How does the clothing vary from place to place?
- Is the clothing sufficiently practical for the characters?
- Are there any traditional customs or restrictions regarding to clothing? For example wearing hats during night hours, covering shoulders, wearing charms, factory workers only allowed to wear blue.
- Do certain groups dress differently? For example, poets, high society, dragonriders, etc.
- How do people carry their items? Through bags by their belt, rucksacks, long sleeves, etc.
Many worldbuilders enjoy collecting a collage of images to inspire them. This practice can be a helpful reference to those who are not too knowledgeable on clothing and fashion.
- Does the community have any local festivals or celebrations? Do they have any events that are sombre occasions to be remembered and respected?
- How does the culture tend to the dead?
- Are there any traditions towards newborns? For example particular blessings, promises made by parents, assigned a vocational role from birth, etc.
- Does the culture have any negative attitudes towards minorities?
- Are there any important coming of age rites? Marriage rites?
- What do marriages involve, are they celebrated in your culture? Do they bring any responsibilities? Are divorces possible?
- What is taboo in your culture, and why?
- What the taboo is broken what is the punishment?
- How does the culture deal with crime?
- Is the society warmongering, peaceful or somewhere in between? Why?
- Is one culture influenced by another?
- Are books popular? What is the average reading age?
When it comes to worldbuilding, there can be many similarities between other existing worlds, including our own. Many writers like to express social issues such as sexism through their worldbuilding, however sometimes readers may become very frustrated by this. Keeping sexism in mind, there are many works of fiction where a woman has to struggle to be heard, and eventually is able to climb the ladder that seems to be built only for man. Consider whether your world can appropriately make its point through repeating these negative aspects of society, or whether your message is better heard by leaving it out completely.
As an example, in my current work, Luna 375, I have a genderless character called Carlie. They do not suffer any discrimination or prejudice because society has moved on. I express my views through the fact that no character criticises race, gender or sexuality. Yes society still has problems through other means and yes there are still plenty of social issues to go around that one may relate to.
Considering breaking from the mould of today and creating something new.
- What food is commonly eaten? What kind of food is seen as an expensive treat? Where does this food come from and how is it prepared?
- Are there any items of food that is a local speciality, not available anywhere else?
- What kinds of drinks are popular in the local community?
- How is food eaten, are there certain rituals in place?
- Are they any kinds of food that are taboo to eat, which would be considered unusual to others?
- What does food taste like? What kind of physical response does the food cause your characters?
The last question in this category might seem quite obvious but I have seen many examples in the past where food is often described on its looks and occasionally it’s smell, but rarely it’s taste. Simply describing the food’s taste as good or bad doesn’t quite cut it.
- How does the landscape change from place to place?
- What is the tallest point in the world, what is the lowest?
- Where in the world would be considered the most dangerous place to be and why? Where is the hottest place, the driest place, the coldest place, etc.
- What is the most common type of terrain?
- Are there any unique types of terrain in your world? Such as transparent grass, clouds that roam the ground, floating lava, etc.
In this category you have the opportunity to make the most of your imagination. Push the limits and boundaries and create something that interests and excites you.
- How does the place govern themselves? Is there a democracy, a fascist reign, do the people rule themselves, etc. How does society respond to those ‘in charge’ – if any? Are there any penalties for negative responses? And do those ‘in charge’ use propaganda, if so how?
- Are there any states that occupy others? How did they do this? (Through war, marriage, etc.) And by what terms?
- Does the place have an army? Who commands the army?
- Has there been any hints or desire to change the political structure? If so, what is the reason for this, is there a particular source?
- What laws are there?
This is your opportunity to think outside the box. Consider how different communities in your world make their decisions and law.
- How many religions, faiths or recognised spiritualities are there in your world? What are they? What do they believe in?
- What are the oldest religions or faiths? What are the youngest?
- Does the way someone practice a religion change from place to place?
- How did the religion/faith/spirituality begin? How was it influenced? How did it influence others?
- Is society tolerate with religion, and how tolerant are they to all faiths?
- Does the religion teach tolerance? How do the majority of the followers act towards each other, and those outside the community?
- How does one recognise that another belongs to a particular faith?
- How is the religion practised?
- Does the religion have any elected prophets, leaders or bards? How are they viewed by those outside and inside the community?
- How does one’s faith affect their interaction with a culture or place?
Consider that religion doesn’t always centre on a God, or pantheon of Gods, nor does it have to believe in an afterlife. Also note that religion can be a sensitive issue, it may be best to completely design your own religions should wish to include them, rather to imitate other existing ones.
- What kind of technology is currently deemed ‘trendy’?
- Why would someone be regarded ‘old-fashioned’?
- How has technology been used to adapt to the society’s issues? At what cost?
- Has society’s morals and values limited technology?
- How is technology viewed by the public? How is it funded?
- What are the popular fields of study in your world? Why?
- What can technology achieve? Can it assist with travel? War? Day to day or quality of life?
- What does technology look like, across different cultures?
Try to establish the level of technology your world has (and how it may vary from place to place) early on. This will keep your world consistent. Technology influences many aspects of a world, from the way we travel to the way we conduct to travel, politics and spread information.
I hope you found this blog post useful. Keep up your worldbuilding hobby and have fun! Do let me know your thoughts through the comments below or through my Twitter page.