Points To Remember When Worldbuilding

The items on this page are mainly meant to bring light to many things that people often fail to take into account when working out their worlds and settings. So think about your setting and the characters or factions in comparison to any items on the list you may not have yet considered, and consider how it might affect or apply to them.

  • Different people will react to new things differently! Some might be intrigued, some might be amazed, some might be fearful, some might be suspicious, some might be annoyed, some might be some combination of the aforementioned, and some might care any way. Someone seen as a prophet by some will be viewed as a deceiver by others. A book heralded by some as fresh and innovative for its unusual ideas might be seen as the death of literature by others.
  • Anything perceived as strange, unusual, or novel will provoke curiosity in many, causing them to want to study it and learn more about it.
  • If people perceive something as dangerous and threatening, they'll try to figure out how to keep themselves safe from it - and they'll be keeping record of what they learn and swapping tips with friends and allies.
  • People often tend not to worry or think too much about things that have been present or practiced as long as they can remember. It's the new stuff that grabs the most attention and scrutiny.
  • People's ideas and perceptions of "normal" are typically based on whatever and whoever they grew up with and around. Everyone and everything else typically is seen as strange or odd, at least until they learn enough about other people to put their own experiences into context and perspective.
  • Ancient people typically viewed their own homelands as the center of the world/universe.
  • People also tend to view themselves and their own groups as normal and relatively diverse individuals, while they often see others more as collectives or hive minds. They will also notice the big differences first, and many will incorrectly assume that these other people have some sort of special obsession or fixation on these different elements, and that their cultures somehow revolve around them.
  • People tend to remember good things while forgetting the bad - the "nostalgia glasses" effect - and are often prone to romanticizing times and places they didn't have first-hand experience with, as they aren't familiar with the depth and scope of the troubles of the time/place. Thus there are good odds that the "golden days" people long for or dream about weren't quite as golden as they think.
  • If anything that people have to do or use is risky or dangerous, people will sooner or later try to make it safer and/or find a safer alternative.
  • If there's a widespread problem, people will be trying to fix it. They might have different ideas on what the correct approach is and may spend a lot of time arguing with each other, but they will be trying to fix it.
  • Legends and prophecies of coming saviors, returning rightful kings, and glorious new eras right around the corner have kept some people from getting up and taking action to solve their problems, but never all of them.
  • Any apparent or perceived political/ideological shift will experience opposition - sometimes verbal, sometimes political, sometimes physical - from those who see it as a bad thing and have the power to make their disapproval known.
  • Anything that people believe will muck up a just, stable, and productive society in general will be met with resistance. It might lead to a moral panic.
  • Anything that's perceived as glamorous, romantic, exciting, mysterious, or edgy will prompt people to fantasize and write stories. Some of it might end up as pop culture. Some might end up with cult followings.
  • Also, anything perceived as cultured, glamorous, romantic, exciting, mysterious, or edgy will inspire people to imitate it, or at the very least imitate its aesthetic.
  • People will always find ways to express themselves and to amuse/entertain themselves and others - even in times of hardship and oppression.
  • Countercultures and attempts to mock and deconstruct the previous generation's art and philosophy are inevitable.
  • Society's sensibilities do not always progress unilaterally; what one generation approves of or doesn't mind, the next might disapprove of; but then the generation after that might not mind it as much.
  • Ideas and philosophies that seem clever and intelligent, or that come from people/groups that people romanticize or admire, will be adopted (sometimes syncretically, depending on what the idea is).
  • People are more likely to adapt their old customs, traditions, and myths to fit new philosophies and ideologies than discard them entirely, if it's at all possible for them to do so.
  • Fables, folklore, and legends often spread to other people cultures, who localize them with names, locations, objects, and other details they're familiar with and retell them. (Hence why there are so many versions of the Cinderella story!)
  • Fables, folklore, legends, and even historical events or figures will often be embellished or exaggerated over the years for dramatic value, or to make the "good" figures in them look more noble and virtuous and "bad" figures more horrible, and/or to drive home a moral or political point the storyteller wants to make.
  • Sometimes, people just make things up - in whole or in part. Sometimes it's for attention, sometimes it's to make money, and sometimes it's for propaganda reasons.
  • Fables, folklore, legends, and history can be passed along orally for years before they're ever written down. Some bits of lore or folklore might be so commonly known that nobody sees any point in writing them down - possibly resulting in them being lost forever if something happens to the culture.
  • As different people who originally came from the same culture spread out across the world and separate from each other, their myths and legends will mutate and evolve in separate ways from each other's. So their lore might share many similar motifs while having some pretty significant differences.

  • Does someone have a monopoly on a valuable commodity, a superior technology, an advanced form of magic, or something along these lines? Others will be trying to get their hands on it and/or will be looking for ways to compete.
  • If it's been invented, developed, or discovered, someone will try to figure out how to use it to improve overall standards of living and make life easier in general.
  • If there are positions of power and authority, control freaks, predators, and other abusive people will try to get into them so they can use them to control and dominate others. Not every authority figure will be abusive, but plenty of abusive people will try to put themselves in authority, and some will succeed.
  • Scapegoating is inevitable, especially during times of hardship or uncertainty. The usual target is whatever or whoever is poorly understood enough that people have room to imagine that it's up to or promotes whatever evils they can imagine, and/or people/things that are widely viewed with some measure of distrust and contempt. This also frequently leads to moral panic.
  • Hardship and uncertainty also breeds change and revival in religion and spirituality. Religion and spirituality can offer people hope and a sense of meaning in difficult times. Religious and spiritual teachings that no longer explain the world to the satisfaction of believers will be examined and questioned. Believers may change and adapt their current beliefs to better fit and explain the world they know, or they may drop them in favor of another ideology that makes more sense.
  • Ideologies that claim to have absolute answers, give people a sense of hope and purpose, punishes non-believers or claims they will be punished in the afterlife, and allow and permit believers to dehumanize those who don't believe in it are among the most likely to spread and propagate. They are also the most destructive and damaging, as they are the ideologies most easily used to justify abuse, cruelty, genocide, and "convert or die" policies; and believers may be any mix of too fearful of punishment, too hooked on the superiority high, too invested in getting the rewards or perceived rewards, too deeply brainwashed that their belief is true and righteous, or too afraid of losing everyone and everything they knew to seriously consider changing their views or ways.
  • But even then, such ideologies will never succeed in holding utterly everyone forever; some people's consciences will get the better of them (especially if they know people on the outside and can't find it within themselves to justify hatred toward them, or can't bring themselves to see them as deserving of whatever punishment their beliefs deem them worthy of), and they'll abandon their beliefs or modify them to something less harsh and/or they'll find reasons their beliefs cannot be true or at least find no compelling reason to assume they are true.
  • People who feel that life has been unfair to them and/or lack a sense of purpose, fulfillment, or belonging are the among easiest targets for extremists to convert. And any ideology can potentially become extremist in nature.
  • There will always be disagreements within groups; if the disagreements become severe, the group will likely splinter and may end up competing/fighting with each other. Also, groups that are extremely strict on what constitutes correct behavior and belief are more likely to split apart than groups who give members more wiggle room, as even the tiniest of disagreements are perceived as severe issues.
  • Dense population plus poor sanitation creates the perfect environment for deadly epidemics. Poor nutrition can exacerbate disease crises as well.
  • Ships can carry and vermin to new places, which can unbalance the ecosystems they infest and even spread disease to the local people. Sailors can also carry and spread disease.
  • Desperate situations drive people to desperate (and sometimes despicable) measures.
  • Most people don't want to fight unless they're desperate, or have been brought to believe that they are in desperate straits.
  • Material shortage drives people to explore and find new sources for whatever they need - or richer territory to migrate to. In the former case, conflict will likely arise if locals are unwilling or unable to trade. In the latter, conflict will likely arise if the land is already well-populated.
  • Possible reasons for shortage include overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, economic crisis, and crop failure. Possible reasons for crop failure include plant diseases, pests, natural disaster, depleted soil, contaminated soil or water, and climate change.
  • A thriving civilization needs a thriving economy. This means they most likely need to be producing products and goods that they can trade with others - and/or be out pillaging what they need from other civilizations.
  • If they built, created, or produced it, then they needed workers, tools, and workshops/factories/construction yards/fields/etc. to do it.
  • Every civilization leaves behind refuse - even ancient cultures left behind things like broken/damaged pots, tools, and furniture; also, they left behind human waste and bones from the animals they used for food or for utilitarian purposes.
  • Everything, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem, has a story behind it. That pebble on the beach? It might be a worn-down chunk of stone from an ancient volcano. The wallpaper in the lady's tearoom was created somewhere, the paper, dyes, and adhesive sourced from yet other places. The mashed potatoes on the table were planted and harvested by people somewhere, and then cooked and prepared by someone. Take nothing for granted.

You might also like:

Town & City Development Questions
Country & Culture Development Questions
Basic Tips To Create More Believable Sci-Fi & Fantasy Religions & Belief Systems
Tips To Create Richer & More Realistic Fantasy & Science Fiction Cultures & Civilizations
Human Psychology and its Effect on Myths, Legends, and Superstition

How Good People & Well-Intentioned Groups Can Go Bad
Villain Tips: Of Conquest, Minions, Progress, & Planning
Things About Moral Panics Writers Should Know

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