50 worldbuilding questions to add depth to your masterpiece — Cult Fiction
Worldbuilding is an important part of any story. How in depth you go is always at your own discretion, but knowing the world your story takes place in is vital for that added level of believability.
So, even if your world is set in the city you live, it’s important to make sure your knowledge is up to date and you can answer any questions that might crop up when you’re writing. Worldbuilding needs to be far more in-depth for fantasy and sci-fi stories, as you will be creating a world from your imagination.
Believability and realism are key when it comes to penning a compelling story. So check these questions out and try to fill in any you think may be relevant to your story.
1 — What is the weather like? Are seasons the same as current day earth? Are tornado’s common? Does it snow for six months of the year?
2 — Is the night sky the same as ours? Is there more than one moon? Are the constellations different?
3 — What animals/birds live in the area. Do foxes roam at night? Do packs of wild dogs roam the streets? Do crows nest in the trees? Can you hear an owl hoot at night? Do the squirrels secretly control society?
4 — What is the landscape like? Is it tropical? Does the coastal city require reclamation (the removal of sediments and debris from the bottom of the sea/river in order to stop flooding)?
5 — What natural resources are abundant in the surrounding area? What is hard to come by? What needs outsourcing?
6 — Are there any magical/mythological/cryptozoological creatures? Are they known by all or undiscovered? Is their existence hidden from the general public?
7 — Are humans the only sentient beings in the world/universe? Are animals sentient the same way humans are or do they rely on their natural instincts to function? Can the trees communicate with each other?
8 — Does magic exist? Is it fantastical like Harry Potter or does it exist in the real world like Voodoo and Wicca? Is it learned or is it innate?
9 — Are the countries the same as they are today? What is the political climate? Do some nations harbour ill feelings towards others?
10 — What are the major religions? Does the government enforce the worship of a certain deity? Do many people believe in god/s?
11 — What titles do important people have? Are there Dukes and Duchesses, Kings and Queens, Knights and lords, like in the UK today? Are these defunct titles, drawn more from tradition, or do they hold actual significance within the society?
12 — Is there a class system? Is there only a working, middle, and upper class or are the others like the untouchables in India? How big are the divides between them?
13 — What monetary system is used en-mass? Is there a secondary currency like bitcoin? Is money physical or electronic? Do people trade goods for services rather than use money?
14 — When was the last war? Are countries still at war now? Are grudges being held between nations? What effects did the war have? Are certain types of warfare banned, like chemical and biological?
15 — What type of government rules? Is it a true democracy or is it a false democracy like an oligarchy or a kleptocracy? Is it a communist country or a dictatorship? Does the Third Reich still reign or is there equality throughout the land? How long has this system been in place?
16 — Does the government assist those in need? Do they give people the money they need to survive? Do they assist the disabled and mentally challenged? Is there help for those with mental health issues? How easily accessible are these things?
17 — Do people trust the government? Do they believe every word government officials say, or do they see them as liars? How trustworthy is the government despite what people think? Are they right to trust them?
18 — Does the government spy on other countries/citizens? Can the government read your emails or listen in on your phone calls if they wanted to? Do they send spies to other countries? What technology allows their cloak and dagger techniques to work?
19 — What are the police like? Are they a highly trained combat force armed with military equipment, or do they just carry a baton, pepper spray, and handcuffs? Are they generally liked or hated by the masses?
20 — What laws are enforced? Are they the same as today? Are there any laws that citizens ignore? Are there some laws still in place that are archaic and defunct?
21 — How common is crime? Are prisons privately owned and if so, do they donate large sums of money to the police? Is rehabilitation more important than simply locking somebody up? Are prisoners forced to work menial jobs next to no money?
22 — What is the healthcare system like? Is it privatised, paid for by taxes, or does a doctor come to town once a month to do checkups? If it’s private, do you have to pay per visit, or can you sign up for a healthcare plan and pay a monthly subscription to receive the benefits?
23 — What is public transport like? Is it ran by the government or owned by private companies? Do the trains and buses run on time? How expensive is it? Do people walk instead of paying for public transport? Are there ways to use this transport without paying?
24 — How do taxes work? Is everybody taxed equally or do higher earners receive higher taxation? Are there loopholes that allow people to take money out of the country? Does doing so negatively affect the economy by removing large chunks of money from the economy?
25 — What is the military like? Are they highly trained or a rag-tag militia? Are they well equipped? What uniforms do they wear? Are they primarily a defensive force or do they venture out into other countries to dispense justice? Are the soldiers conscripted or volunteers?
26 — What is the education system like? Do people have to pay for education? Is education required by the state or can you choose not to educate your children? What ages are people usually in education?
27 — Are people generally happy, or are they miserable and doing the best they can to get by? Perhaps people don’t like the way society is run. Maybe they are merely content with their lot in life and have just enough luxuries to outweigh the risk of taking action against the government that controls them.
28 — What is the total population of the world/country/city?
29 — Is the country individualistic, or collectivist? Do the needs of the elite outweigh the needs of the population? Are people shunned for littering and standing on the wrong side of the escalator like they are in Japan, or do people dislike those things but not care enough to shun them as it is in the UK?
30 -Where and when did civilization begin? Has a civilization ever collapsed or evolved, causing a new one to rise in its place (Ancient Greece, Rome, Ancient Egypt, The Mayans, The Norse, Indus Valley, Sumer, Babylonia, etc)?
31 — What are the cities like? Are there lots of sprawling metropolises, dreamlike suburbs, or post-apocalyptic deterioration?
32 — What are the houses like? Do people live in spacious, luxurious houses, or do they reside in uniformly built hovels that provide the bare minimum?
33 — What level of technology is available to the masses? Do they live in the stone age or the far-flung future? Does the military have access to advanced technology that civilians don’t?
34 — What do people do for a living? What jobs are seen as menial? Are there any highly sought after jobs? Do people enjoy working or do they do it because they have to?
35 — What calendar is used? Do they use the Julian calendar, the Hindu calendar, the Mayan Calendar, or one you’ve created?
36 — How do people shop? Do they shop online, in large chain stores, at small local businesses, or is everything provided by the government? Do people shop ethically or do they not care?
37 — How does the average family unit work? Is society patriarchal, matriarchal, or equal for all? Are people monogamous or polygamous? How common is adoption?
38 — What languages do people speak? Is it common to speak more than one? Is there a common language spoken for political/trade purposes? Do several countries speak a variation of the same language?
39 — How do people greet each other? Do they say hello? Do they say ‘how’s it going’ as a greeting instead of a question? Do they hug or shake hands?
40 — What gestures do people make with their bodies? Are any considered rude, like showing the soles of your feet is in many Eastern countries?
41 — How do people swear (curse)? Do they use hand gestures? What words do they use?
42 — How do people show respect? Do they hug, nod their heads, bow, courtesy, high five each other in the face?
43 — Is wealth or generosity valued more? Do people respect money or dislike those that hoard it?
44 — What common superstitions exist in society? Is it unlucky to open an umbrella indoors? Does breaking a mirror bring you seven years of bad luck?
45 — What clothes are fashionable? Are there subcultures based around fashion? If so, what do they wear? What do most people see as trendy that others don’t? Does society require people to dress uniformly?
46 — What type of art is popular? Think about music, theatre, painting, movies, graffiti, and literature.
47 — What pets are common? Are dogs and cats the norm or do people prefer more exotic animals? Do people import hippos as Pablo Escobar did? How does this affect their daily life?
48 — Are there any public holidays/festivals? Do people celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Christmas, the 4th of July, Eid Al-Fitr, or something else entirely?
49 — What food does the average person eat? How expensive is it to buy food? Do people grow their own food or is it illegal? Is a healthy diet the norm? Do people use knives and forks, chopsticks, sporks, or their hands?
50 — Are people generally pessemistic or optimistic? How do they feel about their current situation? Are they happy following the old traditions or are the archaic and barbaric?
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Originally published at www.cult-fiction.net on February 13, 2019.