Between This World and the Next

How much time do you spend worldbuilding?

I’ve found that I have such a vivid mental image of my world when I’m writing that I don’t include enough worldbuilding detail in the book itself. When writing Shaken, I knew I’d have to do a rewrite for scene-setting detail.

I started doing this deliberately. New writers tend to overreach and spend way too much time describing. They give detail about the world around the characters, the characters’ appearances, sunsets, food… It’s especially bad in fantasy. Call it the Tolkien or the GRRM effect: new writers describe everything at great length.

Ultimately, the world is in the details. You don’t need five pages describing the landscape of your Hoth-inspired ice planet populated with woolly-mammoth people. Your woolly-mammoth girl main character might not spend hours reflecting on the landscape around her; neither would she explain to the reader the oligarchical structure of their woolly-mammoth society. She would take those things for granted. But you can give the reader a sense of the world with the little details, like how she dresses her long coat-hair or what she feeds her pet sabertooth tiger.

Long descriptions have their place, but they need to actually add something to the book instead of just indulging your poetic leanings.

Let’s talk about urban fantasy, though, because worldbuilding can get tricky there.

How much do you blend your personal world with our shared world?

Kim Harrison, I think, does an excellent job with this. The Hollows United States is recognizably the world we live in, but it’s also distinctly different from ours and has its on unique interior culture. Small references to things like “Bite Me Betty” dolls and Hollows-world musicians make it separate from our world and more fantastic.

A problem I had with Zoo City was that it was way too steeped in our world. When I’m reading, I want to feel like I’m escaping our world, not seeing all its ugliness in combination with all the flaws of an alternate world as well. I suspect the book won’t age well, because it’s too dependent on current pop culture to add context for readers.

Is this a personal preference? How much worldbuilding do you like to read? How distinct do you like fantasy worlds to be from our own?

3 thoughts on “Between This World and the Next

  1. I love good world building, but I’m with you. Unless I’m reading epic fantasy that takes place in a distinct universe, I want to see less sunsets and more quirky details in passing. I feel that it makes the writing more seamless.

  2. Pingback: The V-Word « Kristin McFarland

  3. I LOVE world buliding, but it’s probably my weakest skill in terms of execution. But jsut the ideas of playing God and creating vast regions and the mythologies and cultures of a specific area are just so fun. Sadly, I execute it poorly, as I never think about “why the hell is there a jungle next to the ice land? CLIMATE DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!”

    Also, travel-distance bores me, so I usually gloss over it.

    As for your questions, I like similarity between fantasy worlds. I never seem to question when they have Cows and Goats, but also magic. I can respect people who make up new animals and distance them as far as possible from our own stuff, because that takes guts and immense creativity.

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