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This Writing Life: World-building and Character Questions

25 February, 2011

After my post yesterday about the power of asking ‘why?’ and ‘what if’ when developing a story, I wanted to share a couple of links to similarly useful questions (and ones that I’m going to be using when it comes time to plan my next novel). Both go into far more detail than those first two simple questions, giving long lists that you can use to strengthen your character development and world-building.

The first relates to characters and is by Anita Riggio, giving 45 questions to ask about fictional people to form a better picture of their backgrounds and personalities. Some of the questions won’t be relevant to every character; asking what their favourite movie is when you’re writing 12th century historical fiction isn’t going to get you very far, for example (although in that case, perhaps asking what your character’s favourite movie would be if they lived in the modern day might be interesting). However, there are also a number of useful questions about flaws, identity, regrets and obsessions that can be useful in really digging into the deepest parts of your characters’ psyches, making them far more real on the page.

The second is a set of world-building questions from Patricia C. Wrede, and if you thought the character ones were detailed, you ain’t seen nothing yet! There must be several hundred questions here, all geared towards creating a detailed and immersive fantasy/SF world. Whether or not you choose to answer every single one to build your fantasy setting, flicking through the list will throw up plenty of possibilities you may never have imagined before. Even if your story is set in a single city or village, have you considered how its citizens greet one another, or how climate affects what crops they can grow, or whether they allow representation of the human form in artwork? It can be seemingly minor details like these which advance your setting from cardboard backdrop to living, breathing world that is clearly functioning all the time, no matter what your characters are up to.

Neither set of questions is the definitive guide to developing either characters or a world (although the second certainly comes close), but both will make your story richer and help you create something that will live beyond the page in your readers’ memories.

  1. 28 February, 2011 4:27 pm

    I’m not going to ask 45 questions to my characters, but I can come up with answers like the “favourite movie” in an historical novel: I change it to “favourite chanson de geste” (mi knights love the Chanson the Roland and consider themselves like Roland and Oliver)! There’s always an ancient equivalent to today’s things. “Favourite rockstar”? Becomes “Favourite minstrel/trouvère/troubadour”! 😉

    • 28 February, 2011 4:55 pm

      Hah, that’s a good point! No matter what the date is, there’s always some kind of entertainment. People just can’t live without it!


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