Interrogate Your World – Worldbuilding Questions for Writers

I was asked to give a talk on worldbuilding and research at the Escafield SF event in Sheffield on 10th November. I came up with a checklist and promised to post it here for the people who attended. I may yet refine the order, but here’s the first draft as it came off the top of my head.

  • Is it Earth / not Earth / alternate Earth / a mind boggling habitat / somewhere in space?
  • Does it have a history? Do specific countries or regions have their own histories? (Hint, they should do.) Are you using Earth history? Is it an alternate Earth history timeline? If so at what point does your alt. history diverge from real history?
  • What’s the climate like? What about the weather? Remember no one planet (esp ours) is all one thing or all another. What are the regional variations?
  • What about the geology of your planet? Are there regions of vulcanicity? How are mountains and rivers formed? What has erosion done to the scenery? Has there ever been an ice age? Did Slarty Bartfarst design your fjords?
  • Are there huge urban centres or spread out rural populations? Is there overcrowding. Are some people oppressed? Is there exploitation and slavery? Or is labour valued and a worker well paid for his/her hire.
  • Are there non-Earth creatures? How have species developed?
  • What’s the flora like?
  • Has your planet been terraformed with earth flora and fauna, or is it very different to Earth? Are the trees and plants sentient? Can they move? Are they poisonous to non-native lifeforms?
  • What is the status of men and women (or any alt. gendered or genderless individuals) relative to each other? Are you going to use non-gendered pronouns?
  • What languages do people speak? How common is it to speak more languages than your own?
  • Who are the people/peoples? What variety of customs, foods, ethics, religions are there? Are you basing your world on something equivalent on Earth? Are your inhabitants alien or human?
  • How are you going to name people (and places)? You could probably have John, Paul, George and Kethukuthula in present day Britain, but you wouldn’t have had that mix of names in apartheid South Africa. Be careful to keep names culture-relevant and not to mix cultural names unless it’s appropriate to do so.
  • How does the calendar work? Does everyone subscribe to the same calendar?
  • What are the politics? How are the separate countries governed? Social organisation, laws/legal system, foreign policy? Class structure? Elite? Poverty? Is race/racial discrimination a thing? Is apartheid (or something like it) a thing? Are some cultures looked up to or looked down upon?
  • What’s the level of scientific discovery? Is science revered or proscribed? What about education? Are there schools? Colleges? Universities? Does everyone have the same opportunities?
  • What is daily life like for the elite and the underclass and all those inbetween?
  • How do people dress? What fashions are there?
  • How do they travel?
  • How do they communicate? How is information disseminated?
  • What’s the level of technology? Have you pinned it to a point in history which is the equivalent of one of our own?
  • What weapons are there? How is war waged?
  • Is there a magic system? If so it needs a set of immutable rules. Does magic replace technology or supplement it? Are magic users respected, feared, loved, or killed on sight?
  • What’s the level of manufacturing? DIY, cottage industry, industrial revolution, factory system, advanced (done by robots)?
  • What’s the currency? How does it differ between regions/countries? Is there a banking system? Is it acceptable to haggle and barter?
  • Is there commerce between nations/regions? Do some countries need to import food to avoid famine or are they self-sustaining? Does exporting food and fuel give some countries an advantage? Who controls business/trade routes?
  • What’s the level of medical knowledge?
  • What’s the state of the Arts? Are they valued? Do people participate? Are Arts for the elite or for everyone?
  • Is your society egalitarian or are there ‘superstars’? If so, how do they become famous?

REMEMBER: You can make stuff up as long as you are consistent and you have your own internal logic.

Advertisements

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com). She's also a Home Office / UK Visas and Immigration department licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificates of Sponsorship).
This entry was posted in fantasy, science fiction, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Interrogate Your World – Worldbuilding Questions for Writers

  1. sjhigbee says:

    Thank you, Jacey. This is a superb checklist as a reminder for those who are in the middle of a project to ensure that the second and third books still provide the necessary depth and richness in their world, or a really handy list for those who are worldbuilding for the first time.

  2. dergullen says:

    A good check-list, thank you. I went through it with my current work in progress in mind and was pleased to find I had answers to each point. Interestingly it highlighted the fact that my society has no currency. This was one of those passive answers, I’d not actively thought about it because the way they live means there is no need for currency so I simply did not go there. However, it has made me think more about the egalitarian/elitism aspects of the culture though.

    • Jacey Bedford says:

      I probably need to knock the list into shape by presenting it in a more logical order. Some things are really obvious, but there’s always something I forget to consider, so a checklist is handy for me, too. Anything I should add to it?

  3. Jazzlet says:

    If you don’t know who Slarty Bartfarst is stop reading right now, find the book* and come back when you have finished. You will thank us.
    *or radio production

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s