Last Saturday, my fam and I went to the Museum of Science to see the Harry Potter exhibit. Props, costumes, sets and music from the movies swept us into JK Rowling's richly imagined world.
Every author engages in world building, whether you write fantasy, paranormal, historical or contemporary. Yep, even contemporary. Not everyone lives in a huge urban setting. Some people have never walked a small town square. Part of the writer's job is to paint such a vivid picture of that small town, readers can smell the geraniums in the pots outside the victorian courthouse. Every book is a world--a special place where the reader's imagination fills in the details based on a few specifics suggested by the author.
So do we build our fictional world with dumps of description? Not if we want anyone to come with us to our world. We start by dropping in some specific details. Here's a sentence from the first couple paragraphs from Maidensong, my debut Diana Groe book:
Flickering light from the central meal fire kissed the newborn and danced across the smoke-blackened beams of the longhouse.
The world of Maidensong is lit only by fire. I've given my readers a whiff of a smoky longhouse. In a few more sentences, the midwife wraps the baby in a catskin blanket and my reader knows she's not in Kansas any more. Or Regency England. The world of this story is older, darker and more dangerous.
Setting (topography, level of technology, etc.) isn't the only part of worldbuilding. The reader needs to know what's normal in our fictional world. If everyone else is able to fly, an earth-bound heroine is unique. Is she pitied or revered? Every world has its own rules, and the characters defy them at their peril.
A fictional world needs a history. After all, our characters and their progenitors have been living in that world since its creation. What are the values of our world? The religion(s)? The historic feuds and grudges? (Every author can use a little extra conflict. Why not build it into the fabric of our world?)
As writers, we need to know far more details than we share. I confess to having drawn up floorplans for my hero Crispin Hawke's unique home (Stroke of Genius). Some writers design their character's closets and know to the last ribbon what outfits their heroine has to choose from each day. My oldest daughter is writing a fantasy and has drawn some pictures of some really cool, very ornate weapons. Many writers sketch maps.
Do whatever you need to to do in order to be able project your world so deeply into your psyche, it will flow naturally out your fingers in vivid slices of life.
There are so many elements involved in world building, I've just dabbled my toes in this particular ocean. What helps you feel established in a special world of a story? If you're a writer, what sort of things do you concentrate on when you create your fictional world?