“You write fantasy? Well, you have it easy then. You can just make everything up!”
Yes, someone actually said that to me. To which I responded, “Huh?!!?”
I know, eloquent, hey?
Worldbuilding is exactly that. Building. A. World. The whole world. Which means there’s a lot more to it than setting a scene. To draw the reader in and hold them – give them their moment of suspended disbelief — our worlds must be believable, and consistent. They have history and culture, languages, social structures, food, clothing, artifacts – in short, everything the real world has. A lot of that information never makes it directly to the reader, but that isn’t the point. It shapes our characters. How they react to the situations they’re put into is impacted by their environment and culture and if we, as writers, don’t know those details how the heck are we, as readers, going to care? To ensure our characters talk and act in a true manner, the world they exist in must have rules and boundaries.
And it must be consistent.
Oh, did I say that already? Well, I’m saying it again. If it’s commonplace for inhabitants of Aquinius to be able to walk on water, and suddenly in the heat of a chase scene they can’t get across a lake because not doing so builds tension, there’s a problem. Caveat alert: If that scenario is part of the plot, if there’s something different about this lake that prevents the inhabitants of Aquinius from walking across it, and they need to discover the secret, then there’s a reason for it. Otherwise, walking on water is commonplace for all inhabitants and must remain so. End of discussion.
So, yeah, we make stuff up. A lot of stuff. A lot more than the reader may realize.
And why? Depth. Believability. Escapism.
After all, would you rather spend your time in a world rich in culture and history, where things feel real? Or one where you’re surrounded by hazy details and superficiality?
Me? I’m going for the big plunge. Make me believe this world does exist somewhere and these people are real because then I’ll care, and I won’t want to put that book down. As an example, some of my all time favorite worlds are: Middle Earth, Pern, and the section of Compact space in which dwell the Chanur clan. How about you? What worlds do you think have succeeded? Or failed?
Next post: A look at magic in fantasy.