By Lizzie Newell

Author of

Sappho's Agency

The Fisherman and the Sperm Thief

The Tristan Bay Accord


What conflict is necessary to the plot? Conflict is caused by shortage, so consider how shortage led to the conflict that drives the plot.

This list is in order of big to small considerations. It may be best to start in the middle of the list with shortage.


  • Laws of physics/magic

  • Origin of the universe

  • Origin of the world

  • Origin of species

Tidal forces & gravity

  • Size of planet

  • Number of moons

  • Location in Universe

  • Location in the galaxy

  • Location in the solar system

Climate (for space habitats consider equivalents)

  • Axial tilt

  • Latitude

  • Altitude

  • Humidity

  • Prevailing winds

Geography (for space habitats consider equivalents)

  • Proximity to mountains: windward or to the lee?

  • Proximity to ocean: temperature swings.

  • Rivers: erosion & movement of water.

  • Biome: Types of plants and animals.

Shortage What is in short supply in the world of the story? Quality is as important as quantity. Conflict can play out as one group withholding one of these needs from another, or exchanging one need for another, or attacking the source of these needs.

  • Food

  • Water

  • Shelter

  • Air

  • Sex partners

Economics of food

Source/production of:

  • Protein

  • Carbohydrates

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin D

Economics of shelter

  • Construction methods

  • Financing/cooperation in of construction

  • Heating/cooling methods

Economics of child care

  • Who provided care and education for children?

  • How are caregivers and teachers compensated?

  • Where does childcare occur?


  • Ratio between male and female.

  • Ratio between women and children. If child survival rates are high and the population is stable, women will have an average of 2 pregnancies. They on average have more than 2, the population will rise.  

  • Marriage customs: polygamy or monogamy.

  • Operational sex ratio. How many men vs women are seeking partners.

  • What are the leading causes of death?

  • Survival/treatment of those with injuries and disabilities?

Violence and Warfare

  • Homicide levels. High or low. Why?

  • Warfare. High or low Why?

  • Standing armies. Yes or no? Why?


  • Transportation

  • Communication

  • Sanitation

  • Shipping and trade

Funding and recruitment for infrastructure and military.

  • Taxes

  • Conscription


  • Patrilineal

  • Matrilineal

  • Omnilineal

  • Other

Political system

  • Democratic/distributed

  • Autocratic/centralized

Justice system

  • Common-law

  • Justinian/Napoleonic code

  • Other


  • Rituals

  • Beliefs

  • Doctrine

  • Mythology/scripture

Calendar-conception of time

  • What type of clocks are in used?

  • Sundial?

  • Clock tower?

  • Analogue watches/clocks?

  • Digital?

Measurement, orientation, and conception of space

  • Radial/Etoile: Distance from camp usually give as time.

  • Grid: Like the game Battleships. Commonly used in older US towns.

  • Riverine: Upstream, downstream, right, & left. Distance usually given as time. Use of landmarks.

  • Island: Ocean side & mountain side

  • Highway: Exits & roads. Right turn & left turn. Distance in standardized units.

  • Maps, GPS, street signs?


  • Sounds of language

  • Grammar

  • Written language

  • Orthography(spelling)

  • Idiom

Aesthetics and Art

  • Architecture

  • Fashion

  • Dining customs

  • Music

  • Dance

  • Visual Arts

  • Theater

  • Storytelling and fiction. (I take care with embedding fiction within fiction, but it can be done)

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