One of my favorite things to do is create whole societies of people when I worldbuild. Every sentient species is going to be different, and even within the same species, society will differ in different parts of the world. There are many ways you can give your societies structure, and I hope to get you started in this post.
According to the Wikipedia definition, a “society” is the following:
A group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations.
A society is basically a “social organism,” and like an actual organism, it has structures that carry out functions. In this post, we’ll take a look at the “anatomy” of society, and how you can vary with this in your stories.
Here are some things to start you off, when you are thinking about the society you are creating:
- How do the people relate to one another?
- The connections and hierarchy among people in the society are important, and you can have quite a bit of variation with this. For instance, one of my storyworlds has a caste system, and this has quite a drastic effect on most of my characters, because of the way society treats each character and how they function within that society. Another angle to take this is a society like present day America - no defined castes, and people are hesitant to define “class,” but class is definitely still there, and there is a divide even though people do not acknowledge it very often. Basically, when it comes to society, you should figure out what the hierarchy is like in the society (whether it be governmental or otherwise), and how interactions between different groups of people happen.
- What is the economy like, if there is one?
- Economy is covered more in depth in another article, but most of the time, it’s necessary to think about economy at least a little when you think about society and its structure. A society doesn’t necessarily have to have an economy, but usually, especially in advanced societies, it is necessary. Economy can range from a very loose structure (such as a village whose members trade with each other to survive) or a very complex structure (the stock market, and other aspects of developed countries’ economies). It’s also important to determine how wealth is distributed among the people, and how much of a divide there is between rich and poor.
- What is its culture like? Are there subcultures?
- “Culture” is a term that encompasses all the things that societies create, like language, artifacts, the fine arts, traditions, etc. There can be more than one culture within a society, and you should pay attention to how these cultures interact, as well. Subcultures are basically cultures within cultures (i.e. certain sects of religion, or just certain specialized groups). Brainstorming about the culture of your society will make the story a lot richer and more believable, and if you include culture’s little nuances, your story will be a lot more apt to jump off the page.
- What is the government like, if there is any government?
- There is a related post about this topic as well, and like the economy, you can’t consider a society without its government. And also like the economy, the government can be either very loose, or very complex. It’s really up to you to decide what government best fits your population of people. It’s important to design how that government works, and how well it works. All governments have problems, and if your story’s government doesn’t at least have a few problems, it’s going to seem unrealistic. Humans/sentient creatures are not perfect, so they will not have a perfect government. They might appear to have a perfect government, but those who try to appear perfect eventually end up being unable to do so. So if you have a government that tries to appear perfect, its problems should probably be exposed later.
- What is the relationship between the people and their surroundings, or the land?
- You can be anywhere on the spectrum, with this question. You can have a society that lives in harmony with the land and cherishes it, or you can have a society that values the land only for its resources and treats it terribly, causing problems. You can also have any variation thereupon, or anything in between? For instance, you could have a society that thinks it’s in harmony with the land, and that its motives are good for the land, but the society may be doing something horribly wrong and not realize it.
- What is the relationship between the people and whatever is outside their society?
- I suppose that first, you would have to figure out what is outside of your society in the first place. Are there other countries, other societies? Are there formidable landscapes or dangerous wildlife? Empty space, even? Once you figure out what is outside of your society and its land, you should brainstorm how your society views that “outside,” and how they interact with it.
Hopefully, these are enough questions to ruminate on to get you started. Now go off and create a society!