When you are working on a story set in a world from your own imagination, becoming a professional “world-builder” is important. Why? Here are two main reasons:
IT INFORMS YOUR READER OF THE INS AND OUTS OF YOUR WORLD
When readers pick up a book promising to take them to a mystical and exciting place, they expect not only to be captivated by said place, but also to know how things work there and why.
Explaining essential details helps provide substance for your world, and can also give your readers a foundation from which they can begin to immerse themselves in the environment into which you’ve welcomed them. Your story comes to life as you bring your characters face-to-face with conflicts unique to your world.
In general, it’s best not to get over-exhaustive with your details unless the story calls for them, but don’t be too skimpy either. One crucial element that may be the deciding factor for a potential reader browsing through all the options can be how strong or weak you are in your world-building. If you present a key conflict in your story that leaves your readers scratching their heads, it may be because you failed to inform them of what makes it so crucial.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a fantasy book with a world populated by immortal humanoid characters of some sort. They co-exist with the human world, but the majority of humans don’t know of their existence unless they decide to reveal themselves. If they stay in their world, then they can enjoy the benefits of immortality as well as certain special abilities. But if they leave their world and enter the human world for any period of time, not only do they lose their abilities, but they are forever banished from their world and can never return.
So then what would happen if you had a main character who belongs to this species and falls in love with a human? This character could be torn between staying in the one world or living a mortal life with the one he or she loves. Now, do you see why it’s significant? If the author doesn’t explain these limitations, then readers will have more difficulty understanding the conflict. It’s also important to remember that your world is the setting in which your characters interact. If it is too limited, then so are their interactions and therefore certain dimensions that might make them more interesting characters. You DON’T want that.
IT MAKES YOUR STORY MORE INTERESTING TO READ
Readers who enjoy fiction set in a fantastical world expect to become so mesmerized they feel like they’ve left reality in exchange for something else, something that makes them enjoy themselves so much they don’t want to put your book down.
Excellent world-building can make your setting descriptions come to life on the page. When you’re reading your work, can you access everything with your five senses? Do others feel the same way when they read the same passages?
Excellent world-building can help make your characters more interesting, too. Are your characters human, trying to survive in a hostile alien environment dominated by fire-breathing, red-skinned aliens with horns? Are your characters not human, trying to fit into the population without drawing attention to themselves? Are your characters not human but still facing problems within their own world?
As you can see, there are so many avenues to take when you’re becoming inventive and original with your fiction; hence why the genres that call for world-building are popular.
SO WHERE DO YOU START?
As it is with writing for any other genre, reading works similar to your own in one or more fashions is definitely a good starting point. After you read a story, stop to reflect on it and determine which elements you liked and which ones you didn’t. Why did you like or dislike them? What would you do to make it better in your own work?
It also helps to research certain topics that pertain to your work. Do you have a society of creatures that fly? Do they have any physical attributes that help them attain better flight (like air sacs or hollow bones)? What do their cities and homes look like? Do they have any transportation or do they just fly everywhere? Pick up some books, grab a pen and notepad, and get ready to study.
World-building is a difficult skill to master, and stories which require their own separate universe entirely different from our own can be intimidating. My advice would be to start with a story which is still grounded for the most part in our own reality, taking place on Earth or somewhere very similar, so that you’re not having to start from scratch.
Read, take notes, brainstorm, and then start writing. There is no right or wrong way to begin, so have fun and see where you go!
Embrace your writer side, and let the words of your imagination run free.