Questions to ask when you’re world-building.

Posted October 12, 2016 by Jennifer Ellision in blog, Writing / 0 Comments

world-buildingOnce upon a time, I was a baby author, daunted by the task of world-building for my fantasy novel.

The majority of my writing had been fanfiction. The stories I created were set in worlds other people had established.

I had to think deeply about the world I presented in my Threats of Sky and Sea series if I wanted readers to believe my world-building; to truly immerse themselves in the world and story.

As my friend Angel said, after reading an early draft of ThreatsDo all of these world-building details need to be included in the book? Not necessarily.

But should I, as the writer and world-builder, know them?


A version of this post originally appeared on my old blog, Almost Grown-up, but with a completed series under my belt now and gazing off into the horizon at my next upcoming project, I wanted to revisit and expand upon it.

The questions I ask myself when I’m world-building:



  • Do you know the general layout of your world? Do you have some sort of loose map of it in your head? Where do different places lie in relation to others?
  • How does the location of different landmarks and countries influence their trade?
  • How does the climate and terrain differ in different regions of your world?
  • What are the weather patterns like? Are certain locations more vulnerable to certain elements of nature?
  • What plants grow in which areas? Do any of them have any special properties?
  • What wildlife is common in which areas?


  • Are your names based upon certain cultures?
  • Do they translate to something?
  • Does the name fit the world and cultures you’ve built into it, or will it your reader find it jarring?


  • How are troops obtained? Through conscription or voluntary enlistment?
  • Who are the country’s allies? Why are they allied with them? Are the allies happy with the arrangement?
  • Is the country at war, or close to it? Why? With who?
  • What are the key military fighting techniques?
  • Are there any noteworthy weapons or transports?
  • What branch of the military excels? Do they have a particularly strong army, navy, etc.?
  • What about previous wars, alliances, and treaties? What prompted them? How did they influence interacting cultures, countries, and warfare?


  • Is there any sort of public education, or is schooling reserved for the wealthy?
  • How about books? Do “peasants” and the middle-class have access to them, or are they solely in libraries– at schools and in wealthy estates?
  • Is it common to know how to read?
  • What are the basic tasks and facts people learn as children? Does it differ between genders? How about between social classes?
  • Are studies valued, or looked down upon culturally (generally speaking)?


  • Is the government a monarchy? A democracy? A republic?
  • Who are some past noteworthy rulers or government officials? Who do the citizens remember now? And why are they remembered?
  • Is there an essential governing document (like the U.S.’s Constitution)?
  • Is it largely a patriarchal or matriarchal society? Or does it attempt equality?
  • What’s the currency?
  • How is incarceration determined? Is there any sort of court system?
  • What about capital punishment? Are people regularly executed– and what are the capital crimes? How about the method of execution?
  • What are the most important laws of the land? What laws are particularly unique to your world?


  • Related to the above topic of government, does religion have a place in the government or is there a separation between the two entities?
  • Are religious practices mandated by the state? Do those who don’t comply– or those who have a different belief system– face persecution?
  • What do people believe in this religion? What myths surround it?
  • Is the religion monotheistic? Polytheistic?
  • Are there holy texts? Scriptures?
  • What practices or services do worshippers attend? What’s entailed in them?
  • Who are the religious officials?
  • Are there particular holy days to note?


  • What denotes status in this world?
  • How does courting work?
  • What traditions are there surrounding life milestones (birthdays, weddings, births, deaths…)?
  • Are there particular superstitions?
  • What are the fashions like? The trends? What influences (modesty, climate, status) does it have?
  • What’s the architecture like?
  • What’s the food and drink like?
  • Are there any special festivals that people attend?
  • What are the typical gathering places for inhabitants of the world when they have spare time?

How do all of these answers change when considering different regions of your world?

Looking for more world-building advice? Try these posts:

She’s Novel: An Introduction to World-Building (Complete with a Brainstorming Workbook)
Tamara Moss: Creating a Fully-Developed City
Jodi Meadows’s: From Idea to First Draft: Part 3: Worldbuilding
Veronica Rossi’s on YA Muses: World Building Basics
Talia Vance on YA Muses: World Building Checklist
Writer’s Digest: Tips on World Building for Writers — How to Make Your Imaginary World Real
Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America: Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions
YA Highway: Setting and World Building

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