If you're writing high fantasy, Sci-Fi, or something in that vein, solid worldbuilding is an absolute necessity. Even if your story is character-driven, you still need a fleshed-out world for them to adventure in. If your world isn’t established, it can pull the reader out of your story. However, you also don’t want your world to overwhelm your story or explanation to weigh your plot down. Here’s six quick tips:
Even a fictional world is going to be grounded in reality on some level. The rules of your world guide everything from the culture to the way they use (or don’t use) technology and/or magic. Establish the rules of your world and stick to them so readers can clearly understand how your world works and aren’t yanked out of the story because something doesn’t make sense. Also, at some point you might need to break the rules, but in order to do so, you need to know exactly what they are.
You don’t need to describe every aspect and nuance of your world to the reader. That’s the way it is can go far in explaining things. However, there is a limit. If everyone walks upside down or time operates backwards, you’ll probably still need to offer some sort of explanation so that the reader can buy it it without having to suspend to much of their disbelief.
Think about what makes your world different from other worlds. What sets it apart? How is your castle (or spaceship) different from all the others out there? That’s not to say you can’t have familiar elements; but consider how you can mash up components or turn tropes on their head to create something truly unique.
As the writer, it can be beneficial to know everything about your world—what the terrain is like, main imports and exports, the flora and fauna, how the toilets work. It’s interesting, and you spent a lot of time creating it, but before you spend paragraphs upon paragraphs waxing poetic about space toilets, think does the reader need to know this? No, really. What value does it add? If you condensed it down to a line or left it out completely, would the reader still be able to enjoy the story? While you want to share your world and how it works with your reader, you also don’t want to slow down your story.
Let’s say your reader really does need to know all about space toilets because it becomes important later. Before you add in those details, consider the timing. Sure, your reader needs to understand something, but do they need to know it right now? Will this information slow down the plot? Could it be added in later instead? This is especially important in the opening chapters of your story, where you want to engage the reader and not bog them down with too many details.
If you find holes in your worldbuilding big enough to march pink elephants through fix them and do so in a way that makes sense. This isn't always a quick and easy fix -- because readers will catch that. You may have to re-write things, and yes, it's painful, but believe me, your story will be all the better for it.
A strong world makes for a strong story. Your world is the foundation your characters run on, if they stumble, make sure it’s because you want them to, not because of shaky worldbuilding. Have fun building your world.
Suzanne Lazear is the author of the young adult steampunk fairytale series THE AETHER CHRONICLES and the new adult elfpunk series THE SECRET LIVES OF ROCKSTARS. An avid baker and crafter, she lives in Southern California with her daughter, husband, a cockatiel, and a small army of stuffed animals. Learn more about her at www.suzannelazear.com
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