You can find ideas for building Story Worlds in different places on the internet.

I cobbled this list together over a year or so and find it quite helpful. I hope you do too.

I have it loaded in my template (see Tips & Tricks) where I can just run my eyes down it and let the various ideas light up both my brain cells. For example, the hero, comes to the threshold of the villain’s world and has to contend with a river full of crocodiles and strange, grasping vines. A wandjina spirit emerges from the water and asks the hero a riddle … (and so on it goes).

These are just imagination triggers and ideas to help build an imaginary world. But ‘story detail’ is an art. If it is just laid in as a list it can kill your story then and there. Detail needs to be part of the living, moving, sensible, emotional world of the story. Detail should be used as a device to reveal plot and character. A leader who dresses the same as others but also wears less of the ‘things and baubles’ of office is a ‘story light switch’ that illuminates and says something about that person’s character. A brief description of his clothing also provides inferential detail about his character and role as a leader.

That’s how I use this list - as a bunch of light switches to illuminate my ‘story world’.

geography (terrain, mountains, rivers)
atmosphere (density, colour)
weather systems
other world physics (living in fluid flows, volcanic ash)
occupied or abandoned planet
magnetic field effects
outerspace hazards (asteroids)
inner world hazards (earthquakes, tides)
centrifugal and centripital forces
gravity effects
vegetation (wierd vines and strange fruits)
animal evolution and types

sense capabilities (see hear and smell different things)
beings of different sizes and adapted shapes and colours
nurturing habits and instincts
mobility (legs, flight, swim)
racial intermixing
rest and recovery from exertion
intelligent oddities (dragons, whales, dolphins)

History, relevant backstory,
Cultural taboos, ways of doing things

family tribal and societal taboos
tribal identity
kinship marital systems (monogamy, polygamy,
inter-tribal and inter-racial marriage codes
rituals (births, weddings, deaths, coming of age)
fueds (vendettas)
religious tolerance
symbol system

Sociological and Governance (maybe these could be seperate items)
Infrastructure interdependence of social and economic
Social organisation,
Main cultural forces (commercial, political, religious, media made)
Social roles/ gender
Citizenship (rights, denial of rights, rights of refugees, non-citizen aliens)
Institutions (libraries, courts, schools, hospitals, churches)
Utilities (dams, power, transport, water, defenses)
Government (how derived?)
population density
habitable space
State of Civilization (stone aged, advanced technology)
National self image
Social trends (aging, culling, war, peace)
Racial mix (migratory patterns)
waste disposal
policing and law enforcment
legal systems (presumed innocent or guilty)

energy reserves
technologies (advanced, primitive)
food sources and types (crops, fruits)
scarcity (food, water, salt)
precious gems
building materials
forest woods
management of resources

Economic, Trade, Industry
organisations (banking, stock exchange)
tribal trading
demand and supply
primary and secondary industries
interdependence of systems (national, global)

enemy (type, how many?)
defence devices (tanks, ships, sand galleons)
military types and numbers
intelligence gathering

Science, Technology
binding physical laws
time binding (time travel)
power sources (magic, electricity, magnetism)
communication devices (digital, semaphore, courier)
key inventions
scope and scale (nanothech, cloning, singularity, gaia)

Philosophical, Ideological
clash of ideologies
prevailing philosophies
determination of ideas (loners, religions, power elites)
freedom of expression

Training, Education
exchange of ideas
purpose (education for individual knowledge or industry)
hunting, survival, social roles, ettiquette
serving others

Arts, Crafts
useage (utilitarian to decorative to aesthetic)

Sport & Entertainment
value of sportspeople
origins (olympics)

myths, heroes and hero tales
influences (as in the Greeks and Shakespeare on English)
story traditions (oral, written, recorded)
reflections of cultural values

Psychological & Behavioral
character’s psychological backstory
abnormal (DSM IV)
growth dynamics (Spiral Dynamics)
individual and group safety valves
brain function and malfunction

Prevailing Dynamics
adaptive and historical forces
variables, chance, accident, circumstances

Relevant world building resources
library resources

It would be great if others could add to this list. I suspect different genres would evoke different topics.

Keeping a long list of variables like that which you can assign different values to for each new story is a great way of avoiding writer’s block. However, do make sure to keep expanding your variables list, lest your style become predictable and boring.

Worldbuilding is a key element for a believable narration. I can recommend tutorials and guides on worldbuilding for beginners by Tim Hillebrant and Chuck Sambuchino. What really helps me is drawing the map of my story. A simple sketch to visualize the creation. Then, I see what a story may lack and what I need to add later.

The mentioned tutorials:
Worldbuilding: How to Create a Believable World for Your Fiction Characters by Tim Hillebrant
Tips on World Building for Writers: How to Make Your Imaginary World Real by: Chuck Sambuchino

Further to this do you create a physical ; ‘map;’ of the place your story takes place in?
My wife tells me that’s something she really likes to have in a book.

My concern with that, much as with a ‘dramatis personae’ for a novel is that it can be a story spoiler to some extent.

Even if you don’t publish the map, if your story moves over a broad geography, then creating a map, however crude, is a good investment. It’s a simple tool that helps the writer be consistent. You don’t have to do it up front or all at once, you can create it as you go, which is my preference.

As Auxbuss said, you don’t have to share the map with the reader.

And even if you do, there are lots of ways to obfuscate spoilers, depending on your story. Maybe a key location is off the edge of “the world” and previously unknown to your characters. Maybe they know that Far Obscurantum exists, but not that it’s the home of the big baddie. Maybe the location of the MacGuffin is given in a riddle with more than one possible solution.

In fantasy worlds, at least, seeing the map helps convey the vastness of the challenge ahead of the characters. It’s quite clear that Mount Doom is not just around the corner from The Shire, for example.


Thanks to all those are interesting points, and helpful. I appreciate your input :slight_smile:

Hello. Your list is very good and your recommendations on how to use it are very helpful, thanks for sharing it.