I want to describe my fictional cities' conditions, so I wrote these attributes for each of them:

  • What is the city administration?
  • Number of employed people
  • Number of homes
  • Number of crimes committed
  • Major resources
  • Resources to be sourced from other cities

What other attributes are important when creating fictional cities?

  • 2
    Your 'conditions' might be significant to a mayor or police commissioner, but they would not be very important to commuters (traffic, public transit accessibility), job seekers (job mobility, industries), home buyers (density, mortgage-to-income ratio), parents (quality of education, safety), bird watchers (trees, wildlife), sports fans (national leagues, stadiums), or dogs (fire hydrants, dog runs)…. Without context there is no focus for this question – any number of trivial aspects are important to some, meaningless to others. What qualities are being compared, and why?
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 14, 2021 at 12:21
  • 1
    As well as what wetcircuit mentioned, you also have to bear in mind that cities are not homogenous. They're separated into districts, based on land usage, wealth, and geographic/historical divisions. Many of the attributes you've listed - employment levels, number of homes, crime rates - will vary drastically from district to district.
    – F1Krazy
    Jul 14, 2021 at 13:01
  • 1
    To help you answer your own question, and not spiral into worldbuilder disease, consider what role do cities have in your story. You want to contrast them in a way that expresses the theme. A crime story would frame cities as syndicate territories with bosses and rackets (a macrocosm of the local underworld structure). A fantasy/wonder story will escalate with each new location. A Bildungsroman might use cities to represent social status and cultural sophistication. There's no point in listing the type of government if it plays no role in your narrative. Story comes first.
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 14, 2021 at 13:33
  • Also when does this story take place? Is it a historical piece or a modern city. Is there a real world size comparison? Do you want this to be Tokyo? New York? Boston? Miami? Baltimore? D.C.? By the way, all of those have quirks to them that add to their character.
    – hszmv
    Jul 14, 2021 at 14:15
  • 1
    I'm flattered you picked my answer, but for future reference, it's best to leave the question unaccepted for 24 hours. If you like the answer, you can upvote it, and accept it later (you can both upvote AND accept an answer). 24 hours because people around the world submit, and unaccepted because once a question is accepted, they're less likely to give you new and (potentially) better answers.
    – DWKraus
    Jul 15, 2021 at 3:43

5 Answers 5


Don't get Bogged Down in the Technical Stuff:

It is outstanding to have this level of detail in mind when creating a fictional city. Kudos. But these things are best for you to have in the background, so if they become relevant, you can pull on them. But guess what? 90% of the time, these factors won't matter to your readers.

The less technical and more colorful aspects of your city are more important.

  • What does the crime level and police enforcement LOOK like? Most stories have a lot of drama centered around crime, policing, and the generally free or oppressive feel of the town. These are not mutually exclusive, so a city with a tank on every corner can still have roving street gangs overwhelming the beat cops. Police could be friendly guys walking drunks home, or menacing villains busting the innocent for being in the wrong neighborhood.
  • Is the city clean, dirty, crumbling, ultra-modern, or a mix of all these things? A city may be several places, with a high-tech sleek downtown, a crumbling filthy old city, and old but neat and well-maintained suburbs.
  • What is the sensory impact of a place? Integrating sensory data is crucial to give your readers a real feel of a place. Does it reek of urine, smell of paper mill, or waft with the odor of fresh-baked bread? Does it hum with industry, do traffic and trains drown out everything, or do the abundant parks echo with song birds? Can you feel the vibrations of the subway, or are all the buildings on ground-fault interrupters to protect against earthquakes?
  • Drama is full of disasters. Is the area prone to fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, locust swarms, alien invasions, or zombie attacks?
  • What are the PEOPLE like in the city collectively? The culture of your city can matter immensely, and people don't alway think about it. Yet look at New Orleans vs. New York. Are they hostile, friendly, fearful, busy, rude, generous, selfish, laid-back or some quirky combination of traits? How do they treat strangers?

All those things would fit well into a gazetteer of your fictional world, and may be important to know when constructing your story, but they don't sound all that interesting to readers. If you want them to experience your city through the pages of your story, you're going to need more than statistics.

Imagine you've spent a day in an unfamiliar city (or even a familiar one) and you've come back to tell me about it. Would you really be telling me the "number of homes" or the "number of employed people"?

Think about how those facts (and others) might impact the sensory experience of visitors (and readers). What does the city look like? Is it clean, dirty. ancient, modern, crowded, deserted, beautiful, ugly, etc.? What does it sound like? What does it smell like? Are there things that distinguish this city from all the other cities in your world? As noted in another answer, a city might have many districts, each with their own answers to these questions.

You are a tour guide, showing your readers around your cities. What are you going to tell them? What are you going to show them?


So this is a mostly American view of cities, and of course with American local government there are exceptions to every rule. For example most cities are a level below county government... but not Baltimore, which is independent from any county (including neighboring Baltimore county to the north) and is functionally a county level government. Cities generally have either a mayor and city council or just a city council (And how much executive authority the mayor has is dependent on the city charter... a city council could have all the executive powers and they mayor is merely a figurehead... or the system could be a city version of presidential government, sans judiciary (there is no judiciary lower than state government).

Generally a mayor will act as the executive and city council will act as a legislature (Any law they pass is called an "ordinance"). Mayor will usually name the police commissioner or chief or whatever the title is, though there might be a separate position for county Sheriff (in the 48 states that have them, Sheriff's are county level offices. In 46 states, they are also elected offices with career employees being "Deputies"). To give an example Los Angelous has both the LA Police (LAPD) and the LA Sheriff's Department (LASD). The former polices just the city of LA while the later polices all of LA County (which is the county the city is located in, but not all of LA county is the city... although urban sprawl might lead you to think otherwise. To whit, Compton is not part of LA City but it's own separate city... that is on the border of LA City).

As for working size that's harder as many modern cities are prone to commuting and a day time population can be a lot higher than a night time population. This is especially true in most cities not just American ones. Some Wards in Tokyo (Cities in their own right) are so prone to this that a day time population is three times the night time population. Shibuya Ward (home to the famous Scramble Cross Walk, which an estimate 3,000 pedestrians travers on each cycle) has only 200,000 residents living there. Most cities have commuter towns which are more open and less densely populated neighborhoods outside of the city limits that workers will visit. This makes jobs and actual residents difficult to ascertain (There are some people who have a residence in the city for working... and then fly home to their real residence for the weekend... especially true if you're living in a capital city).

It should be pointed out that most cities are built around the most important resource to all of them: Water. Cities generally aren't known for commodity harvesting (gathering resources) but rather commodity exchanging... Large cities usually got that way because they were major transportation hubs that local rural producers could sell their stuff to people who would use it to make things (Manufacturing) or sell it to others who would (Commodities Markets) or ship it to other places (Transportation and Logistics centers). There are some exceptions (L.A. is on an oilfield. There are oil pumps... some hidden in plain sight) but usually, water ways were one of the oldest transportation methods and most cities have a river or port near their oldest districts.

As such, most cities will source basic resources from other places where they are harvested (Generally, there are a few broad categories: Forestry Products, Agriculture Products, Mineral Products, Energy/Petro-chemical Products, and Fishing Products. Only the latter really can be produced by a city, if they have good access to fisheries). Manufacturing and Service Economies are more city's reason for being (Manufacturing is turning raw harvestable products into something else, Service Industry is selling of products as well as skills (such as computer coding or legal representation).

Other aspects would be architecture influence, cultural influence, sports preferences, whether the city is on the rise or decline (I like to ask which would you see it as: Metropolis or Gotham) nicknames or affectionate names, important buildings and landmarks, districts, and icons, favorite foods (New York is associated with Pizza and thinks all other Pizza is terrible. Baltimore and San Francisco are associated with seafood in general, crabs in particular (to the point that when their football teams faced off in the Superbowl, the Mayor of each city bet that the loser would deliver their local crabs dinner to the mayor of the winning city). Miami has Cuban food, Philadelphia has Cheesesteaks, New Orleans has Po' Boys and Cajun food in general, Seattle has coffee... ect.).

One film to look at with an eye for cultural differences is the original Parent Trap, where the twins, separated at a young age, decide to swap places and go live with the other parent on the other side of the country. While both parents are wealthy, down to earth, and moderately conservative by the 60s standards, the Father (Californian) has a more live and let live attitude and is more working class (he owns a vineyard... there's a lot of money in that, but he's at the end of the day a farmer) while the mother is a lot more concerned with the family legacy and keeping up appearances with Boston society (one example, from the moment we meet the Father, he makes it clear that his daughter is his number one priority, while the mother canceling her busy schedule to spend some one on one time with her daughter is a major point in her character arch). It should be pointed out that at the time the film was made, both settings were much more conservative leaning than the reputations they have today. California only voted for a democrat president once from 1952 to 1992.

While both had a lot in common in the big picture, they both have different attitudes over all based in part on the fact that they live in culturally different places, even in the same country.


When writing about a city, writing should connect your audience with your world. Technical details do not help much in this respect.

Cities were like women, he insisted; each one had its own unique scent. Oldtown was as flowery as a perfumed dowager. Lannisport was a milkmaid, fresh and earthy, with woodsmoke in her hair. King's Landing reeked like some unwashed whore. But White Harbor's scent was sharp and salty, and a little fishy too. "She smells the way a mermaid ought to smell," Roro said. "She smells of the sea." George R. R. Martin, "A Dance with Dragons"

However, I see a "videogame" tag. In this case it may be important to define different stats for your locations - but this is hardly a writing problem.


Use Wikipedia articles

I had the same questions you have. I used the Wikipedia articles on London, Paris, New York City, and Stockholm combined to create a kind of questionnaire for cities. Looking at the headlines alone will give you an idea of how they're structured.

I suggest picking the capital in your country as well to get a "home feeling" or if your cities are located in some real country, maybe look at articles about other cities there.

Needs-based worldbuilding

Once you've set up a framework for information on cities (especially if it's one based on the Wikipedia articles above) you have many empty holes to fill with information.

One way to go is to indeed fill in all information. Perhaps for your most important cities (one or two) but for the rest, you might want to fill in the information as you go and only fill in what you need.

For example, one of your characters walks in a park in one of the cities. You want to make it a symbolically loaded moment so you invent a history for the park where the founder had a destiny similar to the worst-case scenario for the character. Something your character can ponder and be fearful of or dismiss or maybe not even think about at all (making it something the reader could ponder alone...)

Instead of figuring out who founded each park in each city and what their background history was you only do this when it really matters. And then add that information as part of the city's "parks and recreation" section. (If you're using a wiki you might only add the park's name in a list and the longer history of the founder in a linked article...)

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