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Writing

9 Worldbuilding Questions to Help Authors Create Believable Worlds

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 8, 2020 • 3 min read

When you start setting up the world of your story, it’s important to ask yourself a variety of worldbuilding questions. Especially when it comes to writing fantasy or science fiction, there are many elements of your world that must come into play to properly establish the rules of your setting.

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What Is Worldbuilding?

Worldbuilding is the part of the creative writing process that sets up the fictional world where your story takes place. When you build a world in your writing, you create a setting that feels like real-life to readers and viewers alike, a place that can be easily envisioned as the author has intended. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth in Lord of the Rings is a good example of detailed worldbuilding, as is the titular world of Narnia in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Each setting comes with its own lore and rich history that unfolds and reveals itself as the narratives progress.

9 Questions to Ask When Worldbuilding

There are a number of ways you can approach crafting your own imaginary world. Worldbuilding lays the groundwork for your characters to develop, providing the stage for where your creations will perform. Regardless of what type of world builder you are—whether you’re a sci-fi or fantasy writer—the following worldbuilding questionnaire can give you an idea of which direction to go in before diving straight into your own story:

  1. How does your world look? What are its colors and geography? What does it look like in the daytime and at night? What are the major landmasses or geographical phenomena that might occur in a place like this? Does it look like the real world, or is it totally fantastical? What are its natural resources? Are they plentiful or severely limited? Does this cause strife amongst the inhabitants or affect its environment?
  2. What is the world’s history? What is the backstory of your world? How was it created? How long has it existed? Have there been any natural disasters? Is there a mythology or lore that’s a part of this world? Are there fairy tales or bedtime stories that allude to major historical events? What if the people in your new world one day found out that everything they knew about their history wasn’t true?
  3. What sort of biology inhabits your world? What lifeforms exist in this place? Are the civilians human-like (like hobbits) or hybrids (like mermaids or fauns)? Are they creatures? What kind of biomes would one encounter in this world? Are there poisonous plants or vicious monsters like orcs or goblins?
  4. Is this a magical world? This is an important question if you’re planning on writing a novel in the fantasy genre. Is this the kind of world where there are magic users? If so, what kind of magic system is it? What does it rely on? What fuels it? What are the rules of magic?
  5. What is the belief system? Is this is a world with religious beliefs or spirituality? Are there gods? Do people pray or answer to a higher power? In George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones series, there are multiple gods that the civilians of Westeros believe in, sometimes with conflicting ideologies. If it’s important to your story, flesh out what the people of your world believe in and how it affects their day-to-day lives.
  6. What is daily life like? What do the people who live here do for food? For work? For money? What do they use for currency? Are there different cultures in your sci-fi or fantasy fiction? Is there tension between them or do they get along?
  7. What form do the main characters take? Are they superheroes, or antiheroes? Are they wizards or knights? Are they aliens or humans? What language do they speak? How do they communicate with one another? Are they from this world or a visitor?
  8. Is there a political structure? Who is in charge? Is there a system of government in place? Is it ruled by a monarch? Are they good or evil? Do they have an agenda or intentions at all? How is power measured in your world? Is it with military might or magic? Has this place been affected by world wars?
  9. Are there social classes? How do people move up in their social ranks? Is there marriage? Is there tension between the classes? Are there different outfits or privileges awarded to those in different classes?
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