I have always been fascinated by world building. From science fiction to fantasy to horror, there must be reasons why a character or a whole slew of characters would
react as they do in their world. Their actions, their thoughts, the reason they fall in love with the person they do, it’s all about how their universe revolves.
It determines what kind of story you’re writing. Like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. She built a whole world, making it hard science fiction. She gave reasons for why the dragons were needed and how the alien world and its people were. Now, The Witch and the Familiar, is set otherwise in a city that Tina Epson lives in. Other scenes are set in Hell. Readers find that Tina works for an independent bookstore in town, Cup of Tea and a Book. She lives in an apartment she moved in after leaving her parents’ house. Except for a few friends, she lives alone in town, as her parents had moved to Florida after retiring. She’s mortal in the first book and likes to live a normal life. But in this world building, this character never gets a chance for that, as unusual circumstances make her come to a decision for normalcy or not.
World building makes the author research the myths, legends, and fairytales. If you want to know about vampires, then nonfiction books and online websites about vampires are a good place to start. Some of it will find its way into the book; more snippets later will sneak in. A lot of the author’s research may never find their way into the storyline. But it’s good for the author to have all the information for their own use, to look at when writing. One more thing with world building is readers bring expectations to reading, like rules of beings and creatures of myth, legend, and fairytales. The reader will have these in their mind. You will have to take the vampire, werewolf, god, or ghost, and make the reader go past these rules and believe you made another way these beings to behave. Your explanations do not have to be the most fantastic, but you do have to have them.
World building should include something else: background. Think of a movie. You have the main actors. But you also have the extras, or background as they are called in the movie business. You’re thinking, “No, extras aren’t that important, not when your hero or heroine is the real focus of the story.” But let’s look at the newest movie out, Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen volunteers to be in the games as tribute to save her younger sister whose name had been drawn from the girls’ bowl for the Reaping. When Effie Trinker says, “Let’s give a big applause to our newest tribute,” no one says a word or claps. You know what they are truly saying. So those extras are important to the scene. The same goes for the book or short story you are working on. Later in The Witch and The Familiar, Tina and the demon bunny, Fluffy, are traveling through Tantalus, a part of Hell, encountering demons and lost spirits. These characters may not be in the story again, but at this point and time, they flesh out Hell, as much as descriptions of this version of the Pit looks like do.
When you build your world, another thing is that you must be consistent in your rules. That means keeping them as you began them. Editing will help in catching these kinds of mistakes. A good critique partner for just this would be another great thing to have. I have files on various important characters in my stories, their traits, what they do, etc… and use these to go back to if something comes up that I’ve forgotten about my character. After all, if what you’ve written goes against any of the rules you’ve created in your world, then there has to be a logical, rational reason it happens differently at the time, reasonable to you and the readers. Such as if iron is poisonous to the fey, but suddenly later in the story, the character can pass through a fence of iron, there must be a reason why they can do this time (maybe they had found a spell that enables them to). Don’t just have them unable to do something because it isn’t convenient to your story. Being consistent is what makes the suspension of disbelief your readers are willing to have held together.
Your world’s historical past should not overwhelm or dominate your current story. If it does, then you will bore your readers, most of all, you’re writing the wrong fiction. A paragraph of it will be all you need.
Is there an inventive language in your story? It’s okay, but don’t make it so difficult for your reader to understand that they can’t follow along or have to wade through it. If it makes your reader stop to figure out and ponder about it, well, it isn’t helping your pacing. The reader needs to be engrossed in the story so much they can’t put it down, and at no time, should it make them stop and close that cover. If the reader needs a degree to understand your book, then you lost the battle to keep most readers engrossed in your tale. Glossaries are a useful way to deal with this, but better if you don’t make your reader stop so much your reader to keep reading ahead. That’s not to say you can’t (after all, I have in my Witch and the Familiar books—demon speech when doing a spell). But nothing that will stop the reader reading.
World building is fun, as long as you think about presenting your world right. It’s all about drawing in your readers and keeping them coming back for more. It’s about giving them a vacation from reality they can suspend disbelief and enjoy.