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Discussion: Worldbuilding is So Necessary

Introduction

Lately I’ve read some really interesting novels that built an intriguing or beautiful or otherwise wonderful world around the reader. But I’ve also read a few duds that just completely missed the mark. I’m a cinematic reader; I like to be able to see the characters, actions, and world unfold in front of me. Not enough or too much description take me out of the reading experience and turn it into reading words on a page, which isn’t fun for me. So today I’m going to discuss aspects of worldbuilding that as a reader and a writer I’ve found are super important.

Immersive Worlds

An immersive world is one where you seamless float into the world of the novel. You don’t even realize that you’re reading words, you just see the world around you as the characters do. This is done through well written prose, beautiful descriptions, and most importantly smart decisions. A sentence can sound amazing in theory, but have just one word that throws a reader out of the reading experience. Once a reader is aware that they’re reading, they’re more likely to notice other strange word choices and see through the world you’re trying to create. An immersive world doesn’t do this, instead allowing reader, writer, and character to float through it with ease.

Insufferable Worlds

The other side of the coin for wonderfully immersive worlds are worlds that just don’t make sense. This includes worlds that try to combine elements of various genres and are unsuccessful, such as worlds that try to create a modern equivalent of a fantasy novel but can’t quite get the formula right. There are also worlds that incorporate just enough jarring elements of various genres, like fantasy, science fiction, cyberpunk, steampunk, etc. to become a mish mash that doesn’t quite feel right or real. Because that’s ultimately the goal, to make your world no matter what it is feel real. This is easiest when writing fiction that takes place in the real, modern world of course. Historical fiction, too, can be easily immersive by including the right amount of accurate flavor. Creating an immersive world is hard when you’re starting from scratch, which is why insufferable ones where the rules of magic don’t make sense and you create plot holes by the nature of your creatures are so easy to find.

Why you can’t just jump right in

Recently while reading These Rebel Waves, I discovered that it really irritates me if several paragraphs into a situation or conversation, I have no idea what the room around the characters looks like. In These Rebel Waves, I often found myself realizing mid-sentence that the setting hadn’t been properly introduced yet despite the scene starting a few pages back. It really took me out of the story and got me thinking–in fact that was what inspired this post at all.

When setting a scene for a book, you absolutely have to give the reader something to picture. You can build n the scene more as you move on, I’m not saying you have to give a perfect description of the setting before getting to what the characters are doing. But at the same time, clumsily including setting description tacked on to the end of a piece of dialogue or action is equally jarring. Taking a moment to focus on the scenery in the middle of a chase or fight scene will take the reader out of the moment as well. You have to ease into the world, showing a little bit of it before you introduce a character, then a little bit more from that character’s surroundings, including any changes that come up as the character interacts with their surroundings.

Jumping right into the world and its history and its politics and its descriptions before you give the reader something to grasp onto and care about is a good way to confuse the reader. If you haven’t introduced me to the main character yet, I hardly care about the greater political implications of the action I’m watching. Vice versa, if you introduce me to the main character and I have no idea where they fit into this world around them, I’ll be confused and jarred when you finally give that context. It’s a tricky balance, and as a writer I also struggle with deciding when descriptions are important and when exposition is needed.

Final Thoughts

Worldbuilding is an absolutely essential part of any story. Whether that’s establishing what the life of the protagonist in a modern day set story looks like, or expanding a bubble of a magical world into a full blown fantasy kingdom, it’s an exercise in good writing, descriptions, and timing. You have to feed information to the reader quickly enough to keep them interested but slowly enough to let them digest what they’ve already learned. It’s hard not to just jump right in when the world’s already been laid out in your head and your notes for so long, but it’s crucial to remember that the reader doesn’t know anything when they crack open the book for the first time. At the same time, you can’t leave the reader in the dark for too long or they’ll find themselves wondering how in the world your characters exist. Writers and readers alike, tell me in the comments your tips and tricks for worldbuilding, or the things that you like to see when reading about new worlds!

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By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

One reply on “Discussion: Worldbuilding is So Necessary”

As a writer and reader, this post was really helpful! I think a trick I consider while doing the worldbuilding for a story is getting as much information as I need in order to make it look realistic. And also, in this cases the “show, don’t tell” is absolutely necessary! Info dumps are always the worst while reading a book

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