Whether fantasy or science fiction, modern literature or poetry, a writer’s job is to build a world. This fact is well known to fantasy and scifi writers, but people don’t realize that worldbuilding is a part of all writing. It is necessary for the writer to create a convincing story. That means including details that readers probably glaze over, oftentimes forgetting them, tossing them aside as extraneous information, but without which, the story would feel incomplete, the reader, uninterested.
Things like religion, fashion, architecture, sports, etc., aspects of society that may not play the largest role in the story, create character depth and in this case, world depth. Larissa Niec said,
“I think that good wordlbuilding comes about when you don’t forget that everything about your world influences everything else.”
Everything influences everything. I cannot emphasize this enough. Readers are smarter than you think and will begin to wonder why the writer ignores certain things. Be proactive and think it through beforehand. The reader will be more impressed if everything is intricately intertwined and still works.
My first book (unpublished), with the working title of Believe Them Inevitable, is scifi/fantasy as it is based far into the future on Earth and adopts a completely new take on life on Earth. I had to think about how to make people think it was real; I had to think long and hard about what the people of this new Earth really lived like, and because of this, I was constantly having to check for inconsistencies in my facts. I often decided on a rule later on and had to go back and change things earlier to make it work. It’s hard work, but it’s also fun. Worldbuilding is difficult, but it is also rewarding, and it gave me an all new appreciation for the greats.
You can go to the main shelf of the fantasy section of your bookstore and most if not all will be successful worldbuilders. Some fantasy authors that really pull this off are: J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter, J.R.R. Tolkien with his Middle-Earth tales, George R. Martin with Game of Thrones.
Harry Potter has maybe two inconsistencies in the whole series; Tolkien’s and Martin’s works probably have less, so if you want to study worldbuilding, I’d start with those guys.
The nice thing about Harry Potter is that it’s really easy to see the relationship between the real world (the muggle world) and the wizarding world. On the one hand, J.K. doesn’t ignore muggle holidays like Christmas, and on the other end of the spectrum, she details how Mrs. Weasley uses magic to cook.
Tolkien is so amazing because he details everything he could possibly detail, and the descriptions are beautiful. He even created languages, wrote a creation story, and wrote about the goings-on of Hobbiton.
Martin, well, most people know why Martin is successful: he can kill his main characters and the show will go on. But why people find his world so intriguing is because there is so much of it. There are so many characters and so many places and each and every one of them has a story and a history of its own.
The stories of Modern Literature do not take place in a magical realm, but instead in the world we know and love (or maybe you prefer a different realm; if so, see above).
However, just because the world is familiar to us doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be reminded! Humans are creatures with flawed minds who must be reminded of the things of this world or they will not automatically insert them into the story. Your readers aren’t dumb–they are literate, for goodness sakes–but you simply can’t ask a reader to filter through all that they know and apply it to the story. That’s too much work for the reader, so it is the writer’s job to point things out to them: aspects of the world that you consider important or interesting to either the plot or your characters. Your characters do think about more than the main plot-line. Reveal some of those thoughts to your readers.
Any of the classics provide good examples: Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Fitzgerald. They are classics because they can be read and comprehended by anyone in any time. Human history changes drastically over time, but as long as the writer details the story properly, they can be understood two hundred years later. Dickens does a particularly good job as one of the first writers to really portray a truthful view of the world; Bronte does a great job taking you through the different aspects of Jane Eyre’s life; Fitzgerald talks about the darker side to a world of glamour: the twenties.
Each of these writer’s created a world. Each of these stories transcends time. Each is a classic.
All writers want their stories to be remembered forever, don’t they? Then imitate the classics.