I am currently working to complete a novel that is not part of the fantasy genre, but I keep getting sucked back in. I think this is because fantasy allows for freedom – the ability to escape the world you’re part of, yes, but also the ability to ditch everything you think you know about society, and create a new one.
Hold up, that’s not quite true. It’s actually very difficult to create a world from scratch. In fact, I cannot think of a single novel/series that uses a world with a culture that shares no aspects with Earth’s (please comment and let me know if you can). I’ve already done a post on borrowing from other people’s work, so borrowing from reality is fine. But when you sit down to create a world for your characters, be conscious of what aspects you decide to keep or change.
I understand your world’s inhabitants might not require water to survive (wait, is that because you’re the exception?), but here are some basic, vital things to consider with any world.
Basic shelter. No matter what species your characters fall under, there are going to be basics they need for survival. What is the common type of shelter? Are there class distinctions? Is shelter natural or man made? Who controls the creation of shelter? What’s the layouts of these shelters? Where are people getting their food from? Commercial grocery stores? Hunting and gathering? Agriculture? What quirks does your world have to make this interesting?
This category intertwines a lot with: Environment. What’s the flora and fauna of your world? How do they interact with your characters? What does food distribution look like? Who has access to what? How is the environment being used to fit peoples’ basic needs? How do different groups feel about that?
Wealth distribution. Maybe everyone is given the same amount of money. But especially in today’s world, that isn’t natural, so how did you society get to that sort of equality? Perhaps money isn’t the most important currency. I can think of several dystopians in which water becomes currency, or everything is accomplished through trading. If your society has unequal wealth distribution, consider the possibility of classes and minorities. What are the social stigmas associated with these?
Considering how your society’s justice system might work will tie into the overall government and economy. (Of course, these sections are all interdependent.) Who is in charge of your society? How did they get to be in charge? How are new officials/monarchs/etc decided upon? How do the common citizens feel about this?
Consider, along with the setup of your society’s government and wealth distribution, the gender roles of your citizens, and how that affects the way your characters think. For almost all of Earth’s history, society has been patriarchal. But that doesn’t keep it from being matrilineal. Consider how these things work together, and how they affect the perceptions characters will have of each other. I have read some really great books that attempt to create an equal standing for men and women, but consider how this would truly affect mannerisms and stereotypes.
What technology do your characters have access to? Are they lacking something because it hasn’t been invented, or because only wealthy citizens have access to it? I’ve realized within the society for my novel Mage that just because they don’t have the technology for something, doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability. In this case, magic has handicapped them, because they have never been forced to find ways for non-mages to do things magic can easily accomplish. (Additionally, if your world is magical, consider the limits magic has, and the relationship between those with and without magic.)
Finally, consider what religions are present within your society, and how that affects the way your characters think. This can be tricky if you have invented religions for your characters, but regardless, you need to understand what your characters understand about how everything in your world has come to exist.
Give your society a past. Just as it is important for your characters to have reasons for how they now behave (and the society they’re raised in will play a large role in this), you need to understand how your world got to where it is.
You don’t need to know everything about your world, especially in your first draft. I’m a pantser, and a lot of what I figured out about my world, I figured out during the first draft, and now, after. So have fun. Push the boundaries of how we know Earth and its inhabitants exist, but you do need to know why you’ve chosen certain aspects of your society, and always consider how that changes how your characters think/act.