World-building is that part of writing people either love or absolutely hate with a fiery passion. All fiction requires some worldbuilding, but the contemporary modern day slice of life novel requires less alteration of our current set up than say a second world fantasy novel set in a post apocalyptic waste land, that spends it’s time being introspective and nostalgic for the simpler times of long ago.*
I’m here to give fellow writers a bit of a hand. When writing fantasy, or science fiction specifically, the breadth of world-building can be daunting, so I’m going to start you off with three essential questions that will get you started. These questions will open up the necessary avenues for what you’ll need in your fictional universe to set things in motion.
Who Runs the Show?
Who rules your world? This is give you so much information right here. Are you dealing with a small kingdom run by an aged king where the true rulers is the advisor behind the scenes. Are you dealing with a science ficion update to the United Nations? Who owns the keys to kingdom will inform everything else on the way down. It will give you access to the rules available to that governmental system whether it be feudal society with a system of petty kings oweing their allegiance to a high king. Or if they’re a democratic hegemony with a secret cabal of voters that determine the outcomes of a society for them.
The choices here are endless, but once you decide who runs the show on your plan, or how many run the show depending on how big your world and plot are, it will get you moving in the right direction.
Who has the Money
This might seem to go with the first one, but it’s not necessary. The king might have empty coffers and be completely dependent on two or three of his cadre. This will convert to some power imbalance, but it’s possible for someone to have a lot of personal or social power without access to the money.
Here you want to find out who runs business, who makes the money and how do they make it. Is this captialist structure with a free market or a socialist structure where people control the means of production.By looking at the economic structures and development of your world you can see the stress marks. Does your world deal with a complex barter system that requires an identifiable pricing system for products and for labour?
Where does these rules fall apart?
Is the money tied in with the government? Generally this is going to be a yes obviously kind of answer, especially in western analog worlds. Either with a similar lobby system like the US where corporations that control much of the money use that to influence government decision making. Or it could be a very strict system where money cannot be exchanged for favours in either government or elsewhere.
The two above questions will inform this one. Where are stress marks? Who doesn’t have the money and doesn’t have access to government? Where are the outsiders and outliers. The ones society has forgotten or ignores, vilifies?
Utopias are pipe dreams, and everyone wants them to exist, but in fiction they are boring. Not because everyone being good to each is bad or that kindness is boring, but story is derived from conflict. Two or more opposing views clash and come away changed.
So even in a utopia there are stress marks, fractures where the individual and the whole create friction and don’t mesh.
These three questions will get you started and in a first draft of you’ve answered these three you will unlikely need much more. Yes of course you’re going to require setting information, but if you’ve answered these you’ll have a better idea of whether your world supports large cities or if it’s a small collection of townships, just based on the government size and style.
This kicks off an off and on series I’m starting for world building in fiction. If you’re interested in seeing more, follow my email list, or comment here. I love talking about writing and can’t wait to see you.
*Lord of the Rings