Unfortunately for many, the sci-fi genre has been explored from almost every angle imaginable. While I won’t press the idea of one series be better over another, almost everyone can agree on the bests. The following should be a good start up to your civilization.


History for any civilization is important. If you want your world to be believable and realistic, plot out a basic history for each ‘race’. If you are dealing mostly with space, start from the time they were able to enter space freely. Since history repeats itself, feel free to take some events from our past. Don’t make a glaringly obvious rip-off of World War II or another well known event, but general ideas work well.

Plot out your history, and show how everyone interacts and deals with each other. If you are doing a continuation of Earth, be sure to link what is happening now to what happens in your story.


While this seems to be a minor thing for sci-fi stories, it make a big difference in totally other surroundings. Culture doesn’t have to be very obvious, it is more of the difference between separated groups of people. Be sure to have each culture recognizable quickly, so you can get on with your story.


The cornerstone of your sci-fi world, it sets apart the genre from all else. The technology is only limited by your imagination, and the laws of physics. When inventing something for your story, make sure it is actually feasible, even if today it’s not possible. Depending on how your characters fit into a story, they might know more or less about certain things. When a reader sees something happening, make sure they say “I can see this happening someday.” Make sure your technology has bugs or glitches in it. Technology today sometimes never works the way we need it to, so mimic this natural failing. Remember: What can go wrong, will go wrong.

Make your new technologies different and interesting, and be sure they all have a purpose. Also think about: Who makes the technology, the government or private corporations? The difference is immense. Historically, a government controlled technology (like an F-16 jet) is usually restricted to government use. If it is, are there commercial models available? How do they differ? While it is a lot of work to go through, it adds a realism aspect that shows. If something is made commercially, it breaks it down further: Does only one corporation manufacture it? If not, how many more? Can this stuff be found lying around on the ground, or does it cost an arm and a leg? These factors shape your civilization, and doesn’t let the reader become uncertain and assume something different than what you had planned.

Depending on your story, futuristic weapons are a big thing. Are bullets still used, or laser weaponry easily manufactured? Does everyone have access to weapons? If not, who does? All these questions you should readily be able to answer. While it doesn’t have to necessarily be completely explained in the story, you can mention it offhand and be sure you didn’t just make it up.

Super Technology

Mind reading, teleportation, microchips inside people, holograms, AI, etc.

If handled carefully, these can make your story completely awesome. If you plan to have one or more of these technologies, make sure they have restrictions and drawbacks. Maybe teleportation uses so much energy, it used very sparingly. AI can only last for so long, that sort of thing. Putting in drawbacks does suck, it makes your world feel real. Nothing is perfect, and neither should your world. Have glitches where odd things happen, and it connects with the reader. Have old people grumble about the technology, complaining they can’t use it and/or scared of it. (Nothing against elderly people, it will happen to me someday) Doing these well adds a uniqueness to your story.


Without offending anyone, I’ll be direct. As technology progresses, religion diminishes. In the medieval and Renaissance era, religion played a central role for nearly everyone. While it was merged more into the government at the time, it still applies. As technology advances, it uncovers answers to questions only religion could answer. That is the basic idea of religion, in a sense. Depending on how advanced your new civilization is should dictate how your religion should stand. If it is in the near future, it shouldn’t be much different than today. But if you’ve progressed hundreds or thousands of years, religion should be evolved like everyone else. Depending on how technological your people are will govern their reliance on religion and faith. If you do create or continue a religion, be sure it is realistic, as if it could actually happen. Don’t progress backwards (unless you have a seriously good reason) into animalism or Paganism ideas. While a strong church can be good for your story and definitely connect with your reader, the church and faith should still be as advanced as everyone else.

If you want to have a strong superstitious presence, have some strange (by the standards of your story) phenomenon occur, or rituals to ward them away.

Money and Economy

Another aspect that our own history has a wealth of ideas for you to use. Money should be realistic in time with your civilization. If it is the near future, coins may be realistic because over use of paper has destroyed trees. Progressing further along, people have a chip with their entire identity and assets embedded in their finger, and all they do is swipe at a scanner. Consider ever-present problems like inflation and a poor – middle – wealthy struggle. Also think: “Who controls the money, and how do they do it?” These should just be ideas in the back of your head, economics bores your readers quickly. Unless your character is a bank manager.

Also decide what type of economy yours will be, which also should match your government type. Free Market, Capitalism, Socialism… I can’t think of any more. Examine countries today and see how they function, or look at ones in the past. See the mistakes some have made and apply the same things to your civilization.

Politics and Government

Politics should be something left to the background unless it takes a role. Don’t spend time figuring out the legal system unless your character deals with it. If a election comes up, then take some time to figure out how things work.

Government is something that everyone connects with. While you should figure out some things, like if your civilization is a democracy, republic, monarchy/dictatorship, or militaristic. Note that even all modern governments can never be completely under one category. Quickly look at the differences between all of them and figure out what will be yours.

P.S. I like the new look Sly.

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  1. SlyShy on 3 October 2008, 20:55 said:

    All important issues to consider. For me, there is no genre where world building is more important than in Science Fiction. I mean, after all, the entire point of speculative fictions is exploring a world that is unlike our own, so the world had better be developed in depth.

    I think if someone has the time, an article on the astronomy and physics related aspects of Sci-Fi world building would be really cool. I might see if I could get Catherine Asaro to write an article… have to work the connections if you’ve got them.

  2. Virgil on 3 October 2008, 20:58 said:

    Yes. Sci-fi gets really complicated because the idea is for it to be advanced. Although you could argue the same for fantasy worlds.

    A physics/astronomy article would be nice.

  3. Tim on 23 March 2012, 08:28 said:

    If it is the near future, coins may be realistic because over use of paper has destroyed trees.

    That isn’t realistic at all. Clearcutting, much as it seems contradictory, is not about trees and certainly isn’t about paper. Paper is made from managed forests, which are a renewable resource and are never going to make the slightest dent in wild forests. The destruction of forests is about land and other resources; clearing for farmland, mostly. The only trees they clearcut for are exotic hardwoods, and nobody makes paper out of teak or mahogany.

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