Let me give an example. Let’s say I have a character named Bill who lives out in space salvaging parts of space ships and other things. Or maybe he’s on some planet.
I don’t have a story yet. I’ve just got a dude in a general situation. I lack all the necessary parts. That lack is a problem to me as a writer. To develop the story, I state the problem as a question and begin generating options.
So I might ask, what are the threats Bill faces on a physical and social level? Are there mysteries he encounters? Who else is there? In order to answer those questions I might need to ask what’s the planet like?
At some point in time, I’ll feel I have generated enough answers for the key questions that it’s time to draft. When I begin to draft, I have other tasks or problems to solve. I might ask things like what’s the goal of this scene? What’s an interesting way to start and end it? What’s something surprising and bad that might happen as a result of the character’s action?
It’s all question and answer.
Towards the end of this week’s Writing Excuses on World Building Governments the guys share some great questions you might find fruitful when thinking about your world’s government.