Every fiction writer knows that one of your most important characters is your story’s setting.
For fantasy and science fiction writers, that setting is usually a fictional world notably different from our own.
And just as you can use character development questions to make your characters come to life, you use world building questions to make your setting as real as the one your readers live in.
To get started, let’s clarify what world building is and what it isn’t.
What is Worldbuilding and How to Worldbuild
Worldbuilding is about creating a fictional world for your characters that can be just as complex and detailed as your own.
It can be a completely different world, or it can start with the world they know as a sort of background template, with important, contrasting details added.
However you want your story’s world to look, you can build it using online world building resources, which come in three distinct types:
Some of these are world building websites where you can build your world from scratch and create maps for it, which your readers will appreciate.
110 of the Best World Building Questions for Authors
Dive into to an essential part of your world-buliding process with the following questions.
Fantasy World Building Questions
Welcome to our fantasy world-building checklist. Go through each of the following questions and picture your world as you answer them.
Questions for Supernatural Humanoid
1. What type of supernatural humanoids are in your story?
2. Are they (part of) the ruling class — or are they oppressed by them?
3. Are any of your characters human-supernatural hybrids?
4. Describe each supernatural character and what’s at stake for them.
Questions regarding Magic and Magical Beings
1. What type of magical beings are in your world?
2. Are they (part of) the ruling class — or are they oppressed by them?
3. Do any of your magical characters mate with non-magical ones?
4. Does your main character practice magic — and what kind?
5. What are the costs or benefits of being identified as someone who uses magic?
6. Does your main character use magic to help others or to help themselves?
Science Fiction World Building Questions
Questions to ask when world building for a science fiction novel explore the popular sci-fi tropes and get you thinking about important details.
These in turn help you picture your world more clearly, so you can help your reader do the same.
Questions for Artificial Intelligence (AI)
1. How important is artificial intelligence (AI) to your world’s economy?
2. How developed are the AI in society and what functions do they perform?
3. Has the proliferation of AI raised or lowered the standard of living for your mc?
4. Does your government have AI elements — or is it run by AI?
5. Are any of your characters AI? And if so, what’s at stake for them?
6. Have any of your characters’ lives been saved by an AI?
7. Do any in your society resent AI as a whole or see it as a threat?
Questions for Space Exploration
1. What led to your characters becoming space travelers?
2. How diverse is your space exploring crew? And how do they get along?
3. Are your characters being pursued by someone, or are they in pursuit?
4. Do your characters trade resources with inhabitants of other worlds?
5. Describe your characters’ spaceship? Is it a warship? A science vessel?
Questions for Extraterrestrials
1. Are any of your characters extraterrestrials? If yes, how did they arrive?
2. Is your main character an E.T. or a hybrid?
3. Do the E.T.s in your story have special abilities that set them apart?
4. Are the E.T.s in story viewed as threats or as government property?
5. Is your main character protecting an E.T. or an E.T. hybrid?
6. Is your mc protecting the people they love from a hostile E.T. or E.T. group?
Questions for Time Travel
1. Does your main character travel through time?
2. If yes, how do they do it? And how often?
3. Do they use magic or highly-advanced technology?
4. Do they time travel for their own reasons or for someone else’s?
5. What are the consequences of their time travel?
6. Does their time travel do harm to any character’s family or friends?
Questions for Advanced Science and Technology
1. Is your world’s technology far more advanced than that of your readers’ world?
2. How does this techology shape your mc’s life, career, and daily routine?
3. How has technology raised or lowered your main character’s standard of living?
4. Do any elements of your mc’s society advocate for a return to agrarian life?
5. Are any of your characters an inventive tech genius? How do they use their gifts?
World Building Questions for Both Genres
The following world building questions are worth answering for both fantasy and science fiction, as well as any story set in a world created by the author.
Questions on the World’s Inhabitants
1. Are this world’s inhabitants human?
2. If they’re not all human, what are some (or all) of them?
3. Are there any hybrids (human-alien? human-mythological? human-magical? etc.)
4. Are the humans the ones in charge? If not, who is?
5. How do the non-humans or hybrids view humans — and vice-versa?
Questions on World History
1. How did this world come into existence?
2. How were the borders and territories for your characters’ world created?
3. What laws and rulers have shaped your world — and how?
4. How did your characters’ own nation or community come into being?
5. Who have historically been your characters’ enemies or greatest threats?
Questions on Religion, Rituals, and Social Customs
1. Does your world have an established religion or multiple religions?
2. Of these, which are patriarchal and which are matriarchal?
3. Does the government in your characters’ world impose one specific religion?
4. What religious rituals do any of your characters practice and why?
5. How do the religions in your world define marriage and gender roles?
6. What social customs or religious dictates do any of your characters defy?
7. What are the consequences for defiance of religious dictates or social customs?
Questions on Societal Rules and Social Classes
1. Does your world have distinct social classes?
2. If a character is born into one social class, it is possible for them to join another?
3. What are the consequences for defying social classes and their respective rules?
4. What are the gender roles and expectations in each social class?
5. What would some classes consider an unforgivable sin that others would not?
Questions on the Government and Its Rulers
1. Do political leaders adequately represent all genders and all social classes?
2. Does your world’s government protect, neglect, or exploit the vulnerable?
3. Does your government provide education to its citizens? What does that entail?
4. Does your government provide health care to its citizens? Equally?
5. Does your government discriminate against women or against minorities?
6. Is your world’s ruler someone most people would respect? Why or why not?
7. What are the consequences for desecrating the nation’s flag or being “unpatriotic”?
8. How does your government treat immigrants?
Questions on Relationships between Different Cultures, Races, and Communities
1. Has war between nations or cultures shaped your character’s world?
2. Does your main character (mc) associate with people of different cultures?
3. Do any of your characters grow up prejudiced against some races or cultures?
4. How does the current political climate activate the best or worst in your mc?
5. Are some cultures demonized in your character’s world?
6. Has your main character’s race ever enslaved another race?
7. Is your main character a member of a (formerly) enslaved or demonized race?
8. Are cultural differences at the root of your story’s conflict?
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Questions on the World’s Topography and Climate
1. Describe the topography of your character’s world and immediate environs?
2. What are your main character’s favorite features of the familiar landscape?
3. How does the topography contribute to the area’s economy and cuisine?
4. How does the climate influence the inhabitants’ choice of food and attire?
5. How do the topography and climate dictate the type and construction of homes?
Questions on the Language/s Spoken
1. What language do your characters speak?
2. Is your main character’s language the primary language or a minority one?
3. Does your character speak more than one language? If so, why?
4. Is there a language your mc speaks only to their closest familiars?
5. How does your mc’s use of language mark their place in society?
Questions on the World’s Natural Resources and How They’re Used
1. What are the major natural resources and how are they used in your mc’s world?
2. How do the people of your world deal with waste products?
3. How important to the economy is the import or export of natural resources?
4. Do they harvest resources responsibly or without regard for the ecosystem?
5. Does your government prioritize the interests of the rich over the environment?
6. Does nature fight back? Does it fight alone? Are your characters involved?
Questions on Cuisine and Eating Habits
1. What are the most popular foods in your characters’ world?
2. How is the food harvested and by whom?
3. Are any foods imported from or exported to distant countries?
4. How often do your characters eat and how much?
5. Do your characters follow a specific ritual for eating their meals?
6. What living beings are endangered by popular or elite cuisine?
Questions on Games and Entertainment
1. What are the most popular sports in your world?
2. What are your mc’s favorite forms of entertainment?
3. Are any living beings harmed for the sake of sport or entertainment?
4. Does anyone in your world hunt purely for sport (not for food)?
5. What are your characters’ favorite games and when do they play them?
6. Does your main character excel in any game, sport, or test?
Questions on World Infrastructure and Technological Development
1. How advanced is your mc’s kingdom/nation compared to others in their world?
2. How is the infrastructure maintained? And how are the workers treated?
3. Is there anything about their infrastructure that you wish we had?
4. Has the infrastructure and technology made your mc’s society safer?
5. How have technological advances impacted the environment?
Did these world building questions help you?
One look through this world building questionnaire should get your head swimming with ideas and images of your world to be. Look around you, now, and consider what elements of your known world will find their way into your created one.
Keep in mind that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. But the questions here should suggest related ones to get you thinking of all the details relevant to your story.
Now, take a closer look at some of the world-building resources linked to in this post and see how much further you can develop your ideas. But keep the questionnaire handy.
You never know what new ideas will come when you’re having fun.