The Zaharam-Chapelle-Parunas Ethnographical Questionnaire is a detailed, comprehensive, yet incredibly easy to use, worldbuilding resource for writers working in fantasy, sci-fi and historical fiction genres, or looking to create a bespoke reference resource for any society in which their characters live. Read on to find out why I love it and how you can use it to create immersive worlds for your stories.
What’s the Zaharam-Chapelle-Parunas Ethnographical Questionnaire all about?
When I first started planning my current writing project, I knew I would need to do some pretty extensive worldbuilding. The world in this story is not necessarily our future, but it is a future. I knew I wanted a dystopian, cyberpunk vibe and I had a rough idea of how cities would be structured, how the government and legal system would function, and the parameters I wanted to work within for technology. I also knew I’d never created a fictional society on this scale before, so I went hunting for worldbuilding resources.
There are a lot out there! A quick Google search will bring you absolutely loads of results, many of which are genuinely excellent. I spent a few days filtering through search results and other people’s recommendations, and the Zaharam-Chapelle-Parunas Ethnographical Questionnaire was the stand-out for me. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t created for worldbuilding. It seems to have started life as a way to understand existing cultures and is often used in role-playing games.
Also, if the link I’ve used throughout this post doesn’t float your boat for whatever reason, just Google the name – there are many different formats many different places. This just happens to be the one I grabbed.
As the name suggests, it takes the form of a questionnaire – a very long list of questions about different topics. Some may not be relevant to your world and you might find that you need to add in some sections for yourself (I added a section about recreational drugs for my book), but as a starting point for research and creation, I honestly don’t think you could do better than this.
It’s not just for creating fictional worlds
The questionnaire isn’t just for creating new worlds from scratch. It can be used to help you understand any society, including ones that currently exist but may be unfamiliar to you, and even the one you live in. The point is, it enables you to lay out a reference that covers just about every aspect of people (or whatever your characters are!) living in a place.
It covers so many things you probably wouldn’t consider without a bit of prompting
The questionnaire is divided into the following sections, each loaded with topics to consider…
- Questions of Place
- Questions of Time
- Questions of Race and Ethnicity
- Questions of Family
- Questions of Customs and Social Life
- Questions of Manners
- Questions of Faith
- Questions of Labour
- Questions of Art
- Questions of Marriage
- Questions of Health
- Questions of Sex
- Questions of Education
- Questions of Technology
- Questions of Transportation and Communications
- Questions of Economics
- Questions of Death and Burial
- Questions of Government
- Questions of Warfare
It can form the basis of your project bible
Whether you’re writing one book or a ten book series, having something comprehensive and detailed to refer back to – to help you answer your own questions as you plot and remain consistent as you write – is so valuable. It took me about a week to work through the questionnaire for the trilogy I’m writing (I may have fallen down a few research rabbit holes because of who I am as a person) and the finished result was about thirteen thousand words long. Before I even started writing the first book in the series, I felt like I not only knew my world inside out, but I was partly living in it, at least in my head. The architecture, the environment, the social systems…everything felt so real because I’d thought about it so deeply.
Worldbuilding can be a massive project in itself and a lot of the details never make it into the finished books, but the better you know your world, the more immersive it will be for your readers. Whether you’re totally new to worldbuilding (like me!) or you’ve done it before but are looking for new resources to try, I fully recommend the Zaharam-Chapelle-Parunas Ethnographical Questionnaire. Give yourself plenty of time to work through it and don’t be afraid to add, remove and change questions to suit your project. And have fun!
I love having the opportunity to share useful resources with other writers. If you have a favourite resource, whether for worldbuilding or some other aspect of creative writing, why not share it in the comments? It would be great to see you back here for future posts, so you’re very welcome to subscribe by email or through WordPress Reader. As always, thanks for reading! ❤