Are You Asking These Important Questions About Your Fantasy Setting?

In many genres, the setting is little more than a necessary backdrop, culled from the author’s real life or research for any number of necessary or arbitrary reasons. Before writing my fantasy Dreamers (coming October 2012), my experience with historical fiction had allowed me to drop all my characters into real-life settings. I didn’t have to create settings; all I had to do was reconstruct them from my own memory (the Wyoming setting in A Man Called Outlaw) or my research (the European and Middle Eastern settings in Behold the Dawn). But when I embarked into the magical world of fantasy with Dreamers, I was presented with a wonderful new opportunity: I was no longer constrained by the facts. Instead, I had the freedom to create an entirely new world where anything could happen.

In the face of all these wonderful possibilities, authors can easily become overwhelmed. Where do we start? How to we create a world that not only incorporates beautiful and fascinatingly bizarre elements, but also one that is solid and realistic in every detail, from landscape to government? The first, and hopefully most obvious, answer is to let your imagination run riot. Force yourself to think outside the box, to reject clichés, and to hunt down ideas that excite you with their color and originality.

But you’re also going to want to get as specific as you can. The “interview” process I use in getting to know my characters (if you’re not familiar with my list of interview questions, you can find them in my free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters) can also be applied to your setting. Fantasy author Patricia C. Wrede has compiled a fabulously complete list of Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Below, is an overview of subjects and questions to keep in mind as you develop your fantasy setting:

What does the landscape look like?

What kind of plants grow here?

What’s the climate?

What kinds of animals are present in this world?

What kind of society(ies) is found in your world?

What kinds of clothing are in style?

What moral and religious values define people’s world views?

What language(s) do they speak?

What form of government is currently in place?

How advanced is technology?

What forms of long-distance communication are used?

What modes of transportation are available?

How has technology affected entertainment and the arts?

How has technology affected weaponry and modes of warfare?

How advanced are the fields of medicine and science?

What are the natural laws of this world?

Which natural laws are different from our world (e.g., gravity)?

Is there a magical force in your world

How does it work?

What are its limitations?

What kind of people populate this world?

Are there different races?

How do customs differ between people of different races and citizens of different districts?

Do the ethnic factions get along?

What’s the history of this world?

How many years of recorded history are available?

What historical epochs have shaped society?

Even if you already have a good idea of the specifics of your world, taking the time solidify your ideas by answering these, and other, questions can inject more life and realism into your setting and allow you to spot flaws and inconsistencies. And, even better, it’s a ton of fun!

Tell me your opinion: Do you feel you’ve taken full advantage of your setting’s potential (no matter your genre)?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.


  1. […] worlds instead of researching them, do as much of your world-building now as possible. I offer world-building questions here. Also, be sure to check out Patricia C. Wrede’s amazingly comprehensive Fantasy Worldbuilding […]

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