World building is one of my favorite aspects of writing, but I sort of hesitate to talk about it because it’s not as if there is a lack of authors talking about world building. But since I do like it, I thought I’d share what I do, think about and strive for in building my worlds.
What I want, when I tell a story set in a given world, is to invite the reader’s imagination to go beyond the story. I want it to be rich enough that they can enjoy the story they’re reading, yet have them ask ‘what else is going on’?
Saying this might be redundant, but it also has to be believable and consistent. In writing, you can write whatever you want, but if the rules are constantly changing or there isn’t a lot of congruity to the world, no one will want to read it.
What I Do:
Research cannot be overstated. What form that takes depends on what I’m writing, e.g., if I’m writing fantasy, there might not be too much research involved, but for science fiction, I might need to know what happens when someone gets their head cut off in a vacuum. It comes up, ya know? Even if it’s fantasy, though, there are things I want to get right. Say a scene takes place in a forest- what kind of trees are there? Underbrush? Animals? While there is tremendous license to make up whatever, little bits of reality will make a fantastic world much more believable and therefore real.
I establish rules and guidelines for a world early on in the process, and refer to them often. For science fiction, are there aliens? What about faster than light travel? Some form of ‘the force’ or what have you? Establishing the boundaries of a world helps me avoid writing myself into corners that I then have to explain my way out of later or having to erase major portions of a book because it doesn’t fit (well, more so).
The other thing I, at least, have to do is remember to keep it simple. The whole world doesn’t have to be shown at once, and not every detail needs to be explained, even if it’s in my head. Show what needs to be shown for the story, maybe a little bit more to intrigue the reader, but overwhelming people with information will make the book less rich, not more.
Finally, I try not to sweat it too much. There are myriads of books out there, and you can tell when someone went way out of their way to do something that hasn’t been done before. It’s much, much better to make it yours and believable than it feeling completely forced. So be original, obviously, but not at the cost of the authenticity of the world.
Hope this helps! Happy creating!