What makes world building? Is it a verbal vomit from the author about this new universe the reader has just dropped into? Would it be the nuances that make fantasy life different from reality? Does it have to be spelled out, or should it season the story like a gourmet chef?
If you can’t tell, I have a rather strong bias about this. Every time someone talks about world building, I twitch a little. I have no interest in writing (and I’m sure you have no interest in reading) a prologue that lays it all out and removes the magic. That’s so 1970s. We’ve learned since then.
Instead, I think the world should be experienced by the reader as it happens, in real time (so to speak). A hydrogen powered car here. A gas giant lighting the sky there. Maybe it’s a busy military compound that’s caught somewhere between the middle ages and three centuries into the future. Maybe it’s a world where gladiators still are a viable means to dispose of criminals. No matter what it is, the reader should be focused on the characters, and the world around them should just fill in the blanks.
Now, in some of my novels, I’ve made the decision to let the reader fill in the blanks. Why? Oh WHY haven’t I spelled out every single detail of these fabulous places that dwell in my mind? The answer is easy. I don’t think it’s fair. I mean, how many times have you come across the hottie by the pool, only to be told that it’s not a forest pond, but a civic area surrounded by concrete? Did you see him/her as a blonde? Is it shocking when the author spells out that he’s a redhead, or she has a broken nose? Do you really need to know that the sweet bouquet is filled with flowers of YOUR least favorite color?
See, we all have preferences, and those things affect our enjoyment. Those are minor details that don’t really matter. I think it’s the reader’s choice to fill in what should be there. If it doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the plot, then why am I wasting time, droning on about the color of the curtains? I hated it when Tolkein tried it. I despise it in every novel that has come since. Why would I do that to my fans?
And yet, I want you to understand what is going on. Oh, I’m not going to spoon feed it to you. I think my readers are too smart for that. I’m going to give you little bits, showing the heartbeat of the universe as it happens, so you’re always pleasantly shocked and surprised. I build my worlds in bite-sized chunks, so you can swallow it without choking. I just think that no one needs a sledge hammer to the head to get the point. It’s crude. It’s not considered good writing, and I certainly don’t want to do that.
In one of my series, this is necessary. The iliri have no idea where they’ve come from. The point of view character can’t tell you what she doesn’t know. As the author, I’m certainly not going to ruin the mystery! (Sorry.)
Instead, I want to make reading into what I remember as a girl. It was a journey – a discovery. Every new page was a marvel, filled with magnificient things. Every chapter made my mind spin. What I expected to happen wasn’t always what did, and I learned. I loved the quest to make it to the last page… and to imagine things that I couldn’t really see, but saw so very clearly.