Whatever genre you’re writing in, effectively establishing your setting is a powerful way to ensure your reader feels immersed in the story. That said, certain genres require a lot of heavy lifting to make sure that's the case.
A fantasy story that takes place in an unknown world is going to require more in-depth thought than a teen fiction that takes place at a high school. Why? We're all familiar with high school. Yes, you need to set up the specifics of this high school you're writing about, but your readers will have a pre-established, general sense of what the space will look like.
This likely won't be the case for your fantasy story, in which you're asking your readers to expand their imaginations and lose themselves in a world they’ve never experienced before. You need to help them understand where they are and how this new place works. When you're creating your own world, you need to fully understand it and believe in it before you can expect anyone else to.
Top three world-building tips
Give your world a backstory
Here's a template you can use while creating your story. Regardless of whether all these details come into play, having these questions answered can be helpful in ensuring you’ve introduced a fully-developed world. If you want your world to feel believable, it shouldn’t feel like it suddenly and conveniently just came to be. And hey, you never know when there might be an opportunity to leak in some additional details (even if they’re tiny!). Doing the legwork upfront to help you fully understand your setting will help ensure the reader does too.
Keep it simple
The reader wants to lose themselves in your story and understand the world you’ve created for them—and it shouldn’t be a struggle for them to do that. If you have details that require pages of explanation, odds are you’ll lose the reader along the way. Making a world fantastical and unique doesn’t mean it has to be overly complex. Keep it clear—your readers will appreciate it.
Let your characters bring your world to life
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking you need to introduce every aspect of your world right off the bat. It’s equally easy to get so caught up in describing the setting that the pacing gets bogged down with detail. Utilize your characters and let them discover your world on behalf of your reader. Show, don’t tell. What do they see, smell, and hear? What are they experiencing that allows details to get naturally shared with the reader? This will help keep your story flowing without losing any crucial details along the way.