A good story can come from turning common concepts on their head and seeing what kinds of characters and conflicts would be in that setting. I’ve been thinking about a couple of societal-based examples that could help spark more worldbuilding:
What about a society that doesn’t use money as a medium of exchange? This story could change drastically depending upon the currency you come up with. Anything from a society that keeps track of karma points from all the good deeds you do, to having just a barter system.
Or, what about a society where killing someone isn’t against the law? That story can change depending upon the system you create. You could have anything from The Lottery (Shirley Jackson) to The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins).
I don’t want to instill the idea that a story is only about creating a setting. Stories are always about characters and conflicts. Setting is important, but it’s the accoutrement. Asking interesting questions of the world you built for a story is a great way to create conflicts for the character within it, by showing how they respond to the problems that arise.
Here’s another example, but this time I’ll open up the concept by asking questions that will hopefully spark an interesting answer—a story. Take a society where humans are not at the top of the power chain. To flesh out more details, start asking:
- How many levels lower are the humans to the top of the power chain?
- Has the power chain always been that way?
- Is it only a power chain or a food chain as well?
- What happens if humans revolt? Are they even capable?
- How have humans not being at the top affected them?
Then, you can ask questions about the type of characters that could be in the story. The key is to look for an interesting perspective. We’re looking for someone different so there are conflicts-a-plenty. In the power chain example:
- Write about someone who is the liaison between the human’s level of power and the highest level.
- If the highest level is overly oppressive and most people seem well-adjusted to injustice, write about someone who is planning a coup.
- Write about a person who was put down after trying to revolt. What are the consequences of their insubordination in their scenario?
- Write about someone from the top of the power chain thinking the current setup is unjustified, and they want to help the humans out by bringing them to their level.
If you need inspiration, watch a movie and keep asking yourself what if in certain scenes to explore some previously unthought of or unanswered conflict. Happy writing!
[Featured photo credit: Neal Sanche]