12 Questions To Get You Started With World Building

So you’ve decided to sit down and write that story. Congratulations!

With only a few days left before November (and NaNoWriMo) starts, you’ve made a good first step in getting that story written down. But how do you begin?

Some people start with single scenes like in movies—when a fantastic (or mundane) event plays out in their heads which the writer then builds around.

Other people start with a concept–a thought-provoking what-if that sets the stage and gets readers to flip page after page to find the answer.

The genesis of a story idea likely differs per writer.  In today’s post, we’ll be looking at how award-winning children’s books author, Kate Messner, writes her stories by beginning with world building through her animation video for TEDed.

(Can’t wait? Kate shares her method with a checklist of questions at 3:15!)

The Questions

To create a new fictional world, here are Kate’s basic world building questions:

  1. Where and when is your story set? Is it in a fantasy or futuristic setting? Past, present, or future?
  2. Create a timeline of how the world came to be. What past events have shaped the way it is now?
  3. What rules are in place? Does gravity work the same way? What about society and its punishments?
  4. What kind of government does this world have? Who has power? Who doesn’t?
  5. What do people believe in here? What does this society value most?
  6. What’s the weather like?
  7. Where do the inhabitants live, work, and go to school?
  8. What do they eat?
  9. How do they play?
  10. How do they treat people? The young? The old?
  11. What relationships do they have with the animals and plants? What do their animals and plants look like?
  12. What kind of technology do they have? Transportation? Communication? Access to information?

Don’t worry about answering these in order.

You can flip them around until you’re comfortable, depending on what questions you think need to be answered first for your story.

What if I don’t want to build a fantasy world?

‘Kate’s suggestions are great’, you might say, but what if I want to write about our world with just minor differences?

No problemo! You can focus on the answer that sets your world apart, then proceed with asking what effect it might have on the world through the checklist.

Even tiny changes (like having two moons for Earth) can have a pretty large impact (an effect on the ocean tides, perhaps?).

If you’re stumped, you can check out my answers to the 12 questions as an example.

What about you? What’s different about your world?

Will your story be about an Earth where shadows talked? Or will it be set in a planet far, far away?

Share them with me in the comments!

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