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Worldbuilding: Social Structure

Details of the place your characters inhabit and move around in are critical to making your story world come to life. No matter the genre, you have an opportunity to introduce and support thematic arguments through these elements.

What is the population size?

Where are they on the spectrum from isolated to cosmopolitan?

How do they feel about "outsiders" or people of other ethnicities or regions?

How easily do they embrace change?

How many races or ethnicities are represented in their society?


Do they promote individuality or the collective good?

Are their lives laid back or bustling?


Do they get along with their neighbors, are there tensions, or are they at war with one another?

Who do they look up to? Who are their heroes?

Who do they look down on? Who are their villains?

Do they value fame or notoriety?


How enlightened are they from the range of the dark ages to the height of progressiveness?


How paranoid are they?

How do they assign names? Do they have family names or surnames?


Do they keep family trees or study genealogy?

Did they record things in family bibles, local registries, or national registries?

Do they have coats of arms or other emblems to indicate group affiliation or status?

Did they have local or regional holidays like President's day, Founder's Day, etc.?

Did they have benevolent societies or charities?

Did they have clubs or civic activities or groups?

Did they have ceremonies surrounding mourning and death?

Did they bury the dead or cremate them? Did they have cemeteries, mausoleums, burial mounds, catacombs, tombs, pyramids, or mass graves?

For the rest of the questions in this category, check out the SBB Build A World Workbook, available in print and e-book.

Next week, we will explore Mores & Manners.


Other titles in the series:


Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Worldbuilding: Governance

The idea of ownership and borders evolved as people began congregating in large numbers in specific places. Before then, families probably staked out camping grounds, caves, or hunting territories.

Did people have the concept of ownership of land or territory, such as hunting regions, homesteads, clans, villages, towns, cities, townships, counties, colonies, provinces, shires, states, countries, or intergalactic territories?

How did they designate borders: natural landmarks (rivers, natural formations, etc.), cairns, hedges, border crossings, walls, fences, land surveys and markers, flags, castles, towers, or some other method such as force fields or magical protection?

Who owned land: anyone, everyone, certain groups or castes?

Who owned the local natural resources: individuals, groups, governments, rulers?

Did they have legal means of owning land or resources such as deeds, titles, or land grants?

Were they mutually agreed upon or enforced?

How dense was the population: dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions?

Who ran each section: tribal or clan leaders, wisemen or women, warriors, kings, priests, elected leaders or appointed boards, an elite class, or council?

What governing system did they have: tribal leaders, matriarchal, or patriarchal chieftans?

Democracy: Rule by the majority. Individuals or group of individuals composing a minority have no protection against the unlimited power of the majority.

Republic: Has a written constitution of basic rights that protect the minority from being completely unrepresented or overridden by the majority.

Theocracy: A deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities or a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission.

Demagogue: A leader who makes promises based on popular prejudices and false claims in order to gain power.

Plutocracy: A society ruled or controlled by the small minority of the wealthiest citizens.

Autocrat: Power rests with a small number of people distinguished by nobility, wealth, family ties, education, or corporate, religious or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition.

Socialist: Public, collective, or cooperative ownership equally by all citizens.

Communist: Originally an egalitarian Utopian ideology removing class and religious control of government where everyone had common ownership. 

Capitalist: A working class who must work to survive that makes up the majority of society and a capitalist class minority who derives profit from employing the working class.

Monarchy: A group, usually a family, exercises a role of sovereignty and rule until death or abdication based on rules of heredity.

Dictatorship: A ruler exercising absolute unrestricted control in a government without hereditary succession.

Utopian: Highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens where everyone is treated equally well, eliminating poverty and deprivation through fairly distributed resources.

Dystopian: A totalitarian state in cataclysmic decline that is undesirable or frightening.

Other Fantasy or Science Fiction government model?

Did they have the position by election, heredity, or force?

Who were the political parties or influential groups?

Did they have knowledge of the wider world and other systems?

Did they have groups determined to change the government system?

Did they have oppositional parties or representatives (congress, house of lords, etc.)?

Was it a time of peace or war?

Was there a history of great conflict?

Next week, we will explore Law & Order.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.


Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Worldbuilding: Law & Order

What legal system did they have and how were they chosen?

Who enforced laws? Local councils made up of citizens, judges only, local or regional magistrates, or a court system with juries?

Who served on juries? How were they chosen?

Did they have representatives such as lawyers, solicitors, etc. and how were they chosen: court appointed or services purchased?

How often did the judges or courts convene?


Were they local or traveling?

List the legal hierarchy. Did they have uniforms or badges?


Did they have guards, sentries, police, detectives, or private investigators, and how were they chosen or qualified?

Were they armed or trained to fight?

List the enforcement hierarchy. Did they have uniforms or badges?

Did they have cages, oubliettes, dungeons, prisons, jails, or other forms of incarceration?

What were the top crimes? What was the punishment for each?


How did they feel about rebellion, peaceful protest, or violent protests?

What type of intelligence agencies did they have: CIA, NSA, MI5, Scotland Yard, spies?

What type of military did they have? Did they have uniforms or badges?


How did they view their veterans or warriors? Were they valued? Were they taken care of? Were they admired or looked down on?

What methods of execution or torture did they have?


Next week, we will explore government.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.


Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Worldbuilding: Shelter

Where do your characters live? Once you pick a time and place,  or started creating your fictional world, you have to decide how and where they will live. 

Research your historical setting. You can use a real place. You can utilize a real place and change the name. You can invent a plausible town in a real geographic place.

What type of housing do your characters have: outdoor nests or caves, stacked stones, carved stone, wattle or mud huts, adobe, clay, grass and feces, tepees, tents, wigwams, long houses, log cabins, wood houses, thatched roof, or brick walls. 

Are there tiny homes, McMansions, or palaces?

Do they have communes or group homes with assigned quarters?

Perhaps they live in apartments, hotels, or rented rooms.

Is the place rural, suburban, or urban? Do they live on farms, small towns, cities, the frontier, quaint villages, hamlets,  the wild, the woods, the mountains?

Do they have states, counties, districts, regions, provinces, states, countries, continents, or multiple planets?

Where do they sleep: outside, hammocks, cots, trees, caves, roof, porches, lanais, lofts, bedrooms, floors, shelves or benches, or rugs? 

Do they have communal sleeping areas, dormitories, barracks,camps, or segregated housing based on gender or status?

Do they have mattresses, linens, and pillows? Perhaps rope beds, feather beds, corn husks, furs, flannel, wool, or animal skins?

Do they have cots or elaborate four-poster beds or sleeping cabinets? 


Do they have bed warmers or warming bricks for warmth or fans to keep them cool? 

How did they keep warm: fireplaces, heating stoves, furnaces? Did they have fans or air conditioning when it was hot? How did they deal with the temperature extremes if they didn't have mod cons?

Do they live together in large groups or tribes, a large family together  in one home, or separately either as individuals or couples?

What domestic amenities did they have: cooking stoves, brick ovens, electric ovens, microwave ovens, ice chests, ice boxes, refrigerators, spring houses, dishwashers, toasters, pots and pans?

Did they have wooden trenchers, clay plates, metal, ceramic, wooden dishes, or finest china? 

Did they use knives, forks, spoons and all the myriad kitchen gadgets, fine silver, stainless steel, wood, or plastic?

Did they drink from carved wood, jeweled chalices, or tinkling crystal?

Did they have "kitchens" with shelving, cabinets, pantries, dumbwaiters, sinks and running water, indoor plumbing, and water heaters?

Did they use clay tea and coffee pots, samovars, iron cauldrons, silver tea service, oriental tea service,  or fancy espresso machines?

Did they have wine or food cellars, spring houses, smoke houses, summer kitchens, greenhouses, or conservatories?

How did they clean things? Did they wash in the creek or river, boil the washing and hang it to dry, or have electric appliances to make it easy?

Did they have towels for their wooden tub, clawfoot treasure, or massive master suite? Did they use face cloths, loofahs, brushes, or showers? Did they have saunas or hot tubs?

Did they utilize chamber pots, outhouses, or flushing toilets?

What types of rooms did their homes have? 

Did they have outbuildings like stables, carriage houses, mews, garages, attics, basements, dungeons, guard houses, gate houses, servants quarters, barns or animal corrals.

What furnishings did they have, wooden benches, cement built-ins, or silk settees? 

Did they have dirt floors, rugs, rushes, carpets, or wooden floors? Stone, tile, mosaic, or marble floors?

Did they have windows with or without glass, shutters, or french doors?

Where did they store things: hanging on pegs, trunks, closets, wardrobes, vanities, dressers, drawers, or cabinets?

Did they have lighting: candelabras, oil lamps, wall sconces, chandeliers, gaslight, electric light?

Did they have options for art work and other decor items from vases to statues to collectibles?

The types of homes and how the characters cared for and decorated their private spaces can tell the reader much about the character and the world he lives in. You don't have to pile it on, but knowing the answers can help you bring the world alive with careful selection of details as they move around the setting.

Next week, we will explore public spaces.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.


Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Worldbuilding: Flora & Fauna

 Developing unique flora and fauna for your Science Fiction or Fantasy novel adds depth and intrigue to your story world. 

What plants (non-food) do they have in the area? List five to ten of each category. Insert them into descriptions and settings as needed. 

Did they have wild flowers, cultivated flowers, vines, weeds, toxic plants, bushes, trees, ground cover, grasses? 

What plants were of value to them? Tulips were once a valuable source of trade. Orchids can be extremely rare and expensive. Some plants are carnivores.


What domesticated animals were pets in your story world? Did they have pets?

What domesticated or wild animals were used for food or on farms?

What wild animals, dangerous, or magical animals roamed their world?

What kind of insects did they have?

What aquatic animals did they have?

What animals were endangered or held sacred?

Did they have sanctuaries, reserves, or zoos?

Did they have legal or illegal hunting or trading?

Did they worship any animal?

Did they have any myths or legends surrounding animals?

Did they have dinosaurs or know about them?


Have you invented Fantasy, magical, or futuristic animals?

Suggested resources:

1. A New World: England's First View of America by Kim Sloan
2. Biologia Centrali-Americana: Contributions to the Knowledge of the Fauna and Flora of Mexico and Central America by A. P. Maudslay
3. Fauna and Flora in the Middle Ages: Studies of the Medieval Environment and its Impact on the Human Mind by Sieglinde Hartmann
4. The Origin of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition by Charles Darwin
5. Nature Illuminated: Flora and Fauna from the Court of Emperor Rudolf II by Lee Hendrix & Thea Vignau-Wilberg
6. Amazonia: Flora Fauna by Salvador Monteiro & Lionel Kaz
7. Field Guide to the New England Alpine Summits: Mountaintop Flora And Fauna In Maine, New Hampshire, And Vermont by Nancy G. Slack & Allison W. Bell
8. Bogs of the Northeast by Charles W. Johnson
9. Trees and Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest: Timber Press Field Guide by Mark Turner & Ellen Kuhlmann
10. The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Department of the Army
11. The Wildlife of Southern Africa by Vincent Carruthers
12. The Biology of African Savannahs by Bryan Shorrocks & William Bates
13. Southern African Wild Flowers - Jewels of the Veld by John Manning & Colin Paterson-Jones
14. Trees of Panama and Costa Rica by Richard Condit, Rolando PĂ©rez & Nefertaris Daguerre
15. Handy Pocket Guide to Tropical Plants by Elisabeth Chan & Luca Invernizzi Tettoni 

Next week, we will explore governance.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.


Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Worldbuilding: Climate & Weather

What is the atmosphere like on earth, your fantasy world, or distant planet? Is it a heat wave, an ice age, stable, or unstable?

Do they need special equipment or adaptations to live there?

What is the climate zone: subtropical, tropical, temperate, equatorial, or polar?

What are the average temperatures for the different times of year? Do they have seasons?

How clean is their air, water, and land? 

How safe is their natural world overall? 

How safe is their ten-mile radius?

What weather do they experience?

What is their ecosystem : aquatic, marine, large marine, freshwater, lake, river, wetlands, rain Forest, swamp, terrestrial, forest, seaside, riverbank zone, urban, suburban, rural, desert, bio dome, space station, space outpost, or magical kingdom with other unique features? It could be above ground, underground, or floating in the sky.

What is the topography: craters, deserts, forests, mountains, plains, savannas, tundra, valleys, canyons, volcanoes, caves, caverns, lava tubes, lava flows, waterfalls, unique rock formations, sandy beaches, rocky beaches, cliffs, rolling hills, hot springs, geysers, rain forest, glaciers, ice caves, ice floes, or permafrost?

 What natural resources do they have?

Do they have easy access to drinkable water?

Do they trade or travel via water?

How easy is it for them to leave their area?

How easy is it for other people to reach their area?

Next week, we will explore flora and fauna.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.


Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.