A great story has a great setting surrounding the plot. How do you create a believable, consistent world for your story?
The genre of your story will determine how in-depth you need to worldbuild to create a believable setting. Sometimes a barebones, “basically earth with different cities/countries” or “actually earth” will suffice. If you’re writing fantasy, though, you probably need to create a new world or at least rules for how the fantasy elements interact with the world. “Earth plus magic,” for example, has a lot of possibilities.
The questions you should ask:
- Is this earth? If not, you’ll need to decide if your story takes place on a planet or just a country/region of a planet. You may not need the whole planet, but you could name it and create vague areas. Only put the detail work into the areas you’ll be using.
- If this is earth, what year is it? How has earth changed between then and now? For futuristic fiction, decide on some general events and changes that have taken place. Flesh out the ones that will affect your plot. Have a timeline in case you need to make more history.
- Do you need or want to create a language? Who speaks that language? Define the people group or context for the language. For example, in the Middle Ages most written work from educated people was in Latin. The Catholic Church services were in Latin. At that time, Latin had a specific context even though the majority of people did not speak or understand it.
- Are the people human? If not, how are they different? How are they similar? Are there humans in this world? Will there be humans in this world? If you have multiple species consider how they interact with each other and why.
- What religion do the main characters adhere to? What religion(s) are common among the people in the city/country/region/etc? Do they believe in god(s)? Are the god(s) real in this world? What are they like? What are the religious practices or rituals, if any? Religion plays a huge role in culture and has a large influence on people’s lives.
- Who is in charge of the government or power structure? Are either of those present? Do the majority of people like the officials? Why or why not? Do the main characters like them? Why or why not? Have the officials influenced the city/country/etc positively or negatively? How?
These are some basic starting questions. As you create, more questions and their answers may come to mind. Feel free to create as much or as little detail for your world as you want or need.
Just don’t get so caught up in it you forget to start writing your story.