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Essential tips for worldbuilding

Essential tips for worldbuilding Essential tips for worldbuilding
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    When you hear the world “worldbuilding,” you probably think of complex maps, made up languages, and alien species. That is a type of worldbuilding that is common in science fiction and fantasy, but it’s not the only kind. Worldbuilding is something every author engages in, even those writing contemporary romances set in the real world. Approaching your worldbuilding deliberately, no matter your genre, can help your story feel more real and keep your readers hooked. 

    Worldbuilding is for everyone

    Worldbuilding is the process of making your world feel real. How much effort you need to put into this depends on how different the story’s world is from the everyday world. A story set in a space station needs way more worldbuilding than a story set in a contemporary American high school, but both settings need to feel real to the reader. The world is the setting for the story, and in order for the story’s events to feel convincing, the reader needs to understand how the world is shaping the events the protagonist is experiencing. For stories set in our normal world, we understand pretty intuitively how the world shapes the protagonists’ actions and reactions, but for stories set in fantastical worlds, we need a bit more detail to understand what is happening and why. But even stories set in a familiar, contemporary setting need to feel real. Think of it as the difference between a painted backdrop and a fully rendered CGI backdrop. The first one is going to feel a little flat, while the second is going to feel more immersive. It takes more work for a spaceship backdrop to feel immersive compared to the high school backdrop, but you still need to put the effort in to making the high school backdrop feel real.

    The purpose of worldbuilding is to make the world of the story feel real and emotionally engaging to the reader. This undertaking is more complex for Alternate Worlds than it is for Normal Worlds, but the principle is the same. 

    What makes a world feel real?

    Shaping the plot

    The setting provides the context for the story to happen and should shape how events unfold. Grey’s Anatomy wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t set in a hospital; the setting fundamentally shapes how the plot progresses and what kinds of things happen in the story. We want to get a sense that your setting matters to the story. What events happen in this setting that couldn’t happen anywhere else? That’s the foundation of making your setting matter to your reader. 

    Character emotions

    Think about walking down the street in your hometown. You probably have a lot of memories and feelings associated with that environment. In addition to your personal history, the history of the place is embedded there–think about street names, monuments, and how the street has changed over the years. These two things combine to  give us a sense of this place, and the same is true for your readers. Making your world feel real is a matter of making it matter emotionally to the characters, and thus to the readers. When characters notice and react to the world around them, this draws the reader’s attention to the world and makes it feel real. 

    Significant detail

    When you are drawing the reader’s attention to the world, you want to make sure that the detail you’re including matters to the story. More is not necessarily better. How much detail you need, how to understand what kinds of details are relevant, and how to incorporate it into the story all varies by the genre you’re writing and type of worldbuilding you’re doing. When you’re sharing details with the reader, it should generally either move the story forward, or enhance our understanding of the characters and the world. In other words, it should be either plot significant, or emotionally significant. One or two really distinct, punchy details gives us a significantly bigger impression than a big paragraph of description that’s hard to sift through. 

    Reveal organically

    It can be really tempting, especially if you’re writing in a Trope World or Alternate World, to just explain how everything works in the beginning to get the reader up to speed, and then get into the story. However, this can actually cause your reader to bounce off the story because they have to onboard all this information without any emotional context to hang it on. Also keep in mind that for a lot of readers of Trope World and Alternate World stories, discovering the world is part of the pleasure of the story. Revealing the world through the characters’ interactions with it increases the sense of curiosity for the reader and the sense of immersion in the story.  

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