7 Things to Think About When Writing the Future…or the Past

Nora Roberts is best known for her romance novels — all of which move through several genres. You’ve got historical, fantastical, modern, thriller, etc. (I could list and list and list…but you get the point.)

But she’s also the creator of the J.D. Robb in Death series. For those of you who may not be familiar with this series, I’ll give you a quick rundown: the main character, Eve Dallas, is a police lieutenant in 2058 New York. She works crazy murder cases. During one particularly gnarly investigation (in book one, Naked in Death), she meets and falls in love with billionaire Roarke. Through the course of the series they deal with murder, mayhem, and mystery while navigating and growing their own relationship.

Note that the series is set in New York in 2058.

Welcome to future, where cops and criminals alike use sealant to cover up their fingerprints — the cops to avoid contaminating a scene, the criminals to avoid getting caught. There are licensed “companions” (think Firefly companions), businesses can have offices off-world, and the digital world requires its own investigative department. Holodecks are real(ish). Plastic surgery is as much a part of the beauty routine as a haircut. AutoChefs make your food.

Neat, right?

But, if you’re planning on writing something in the future, in order for the reader to buy into your world, you have to make the future somehow seem plausible. Nothing in J.D. Robb’s futuristic world is out-of-bounds. In fact, a lot of the available technology in her 2058 is available here-and-now…just on a much smaller, less affordable scale. As I was reading through the in Death series, it occurred to me that there are some things to keep in mind if you’re gonna take the leap and move the world forward.

These are items of world-building that are useful both for a positive/negative future, and also for historical novels. (Though, for historical works, the answers to these questions/concerns inherently come from your research.)

And now I ask you a ton of questions — you’ll note these are things we debate today…humans are nothing if not creatures of habit.


1. Energy
What is powering the future? Oil? Renewable energy like solar/wind/water? Lithium crystals? How does the energy resource work? Are there periods of “downtime” (i.e. brownouts)? Who controls the energy resource? The government, corporations, small bands of local farmers? Where’s the money? He who controls the energy controls the world.

2. Sex
Who gets to have it? For what purpose? What are the rules around it — genders, ages, race, religion, marriage? Is it accepted or just tolerated? Who gets to have children? When and why? How is reproduction monitored — cloning, artificial reproduction, etc? What birth controls are available and to which sex? How is pornography handled and what actually constitutes pornography in this future? Is falling in love a goal, is it frowned upon, is it an okay thing? Is sex more business or more pleasure?

3. Groups
Who is in charge? Why? What’re the pro/cons about them? Who is not in charge/disenfranchised? Why? What’re the pro/cons about them? What are the disenfranchised doing to become franchised? What does a family group look like? Who educates the young? What are the values instilled by the elders to the young? How are the elders treated? Who makes the rules? Who enforces the rules? What does the military/police force/vigilante justice look like? What are the consequences within the group for breaking the rules? What are the rewards for following the rules?

4. Technology
Is there a comparable technology today and why is your evolution of this technology the most accurate? Do people enjoy using the technology as it is? (I’ll admit, I’m thrown mostly by Robb’s “links” which are basically cell phones which everyone keeps on Facetime. I hate Facetime and far prefer texting and so do most people I know.) What are the glitches? How dependent is your society on that technology? Also remember — the bad guys will have this technology too. Anything that can be used for good can be used for evil.

5. Religion
How is faith regarded? How is it policed? How does it police? What are the tolerated religions and what religions are excluded? What’s its role in government? Who practices it? Who looks down on it? Who respects it? How is faith communicated (kneeling, genuflecting, etc)? How does prayer work? Are prayers answered?

6. Currency
How are goods and services bought and paid for? How are they exchanged? Who decides the economic factors? Who is impacted the most? The least? What are the highest valued professions? Which are the necessary professions? How are luxuries defined? Who gets the luxuries? What does poverty look like? Who suffers poverty? What is the money? Gold? Silver? The magical self-perpetuating stones of Reorax?

7. Entertainment
What does it look like? Is it respected? Are there forced entertainments/propaganda? What is publicly decent/indecent? Who decides? How is it enforced? Is there a written language? Who’s allowed to read/write/communicate? What do performances entail? Who supports the entertainers? How? What are sporting/musical/contest events like? Who gets to participate?

What am I missing? Have I asked enough questions? Not enough?



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2 responses to “7 Things to Think About When Writing the Future…or the Past”

  1. TheOriginalPhoenix Avatar

    All good world-building questions. I know that it’s important to ask about how the land gets resources like water and food as well.

  2. Tyler B. Humphries Avatar

    Reblogged this on The Tyler Experience and commented:
    I’m the type of writer that loves to world build. It’s actually my favorite part of the writing process but I also know that that’s not the case for all writers. Here is a short post I found with some tips on world building. Enjoy.

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