I love when authors create a place so well that I’m tempted to add it to my Place To Visit list, but then remember it’s only a fantasy world. When the author weaves a setting into a story so seamlessly, I don’t even notice until the moment when I think this place might be real. World building is a daunting task. When I read, I pay extra attention to how authors do this.
Here are a few things which draw me in:
- Consistency. Once the author establishes rules for how their world works, they serve as guidelines for what to expect later. For example, in Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, she established the rules that govern Panem and the twelve outlying districts. Readers know each district must send a boy and a girl to participate in the Games, and readers know the dismal outcome. I remember thinking there was no way she was going to kill this character. Yet, Collins stayed true to her world’s rules.
- Believable paranormal elements. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but hear me out. Even though paranormal writers dally in the supernatural and other things science can’t explain, there are still certain things these readers expect. Ghosts are incorporeal. Zombies can’t talk. Vampires burn in sunlight. Valkyrie can’t resist shiny objects. Whenever writers deviate from these standards to make these creatures their own, the writer is tasked with making it believable and consistent. I’m sure we can all think of books or movies where paranormal creatures break traditional expectations in a surprising and unique way.
- Close to accurate cities. When it comes to books set in real cities, whether historical, modern, or somewhere in between, it’s important to get the major things accurate. St. Louis has a humongous arch which can serve to help ground readers. New York has the Statue of Liberty which might stir emotions in certain characters. There are also a number of natural landmarks that pop up in books to help orient the reader, swamps in Louisiana, mountains in Colorado, Flint Hills in Kansas. Using elements that already exist, places where people go, streets and intersections people are familiar with goes a long way toward lending a real feel to fiction. And of course, writers can make this their own by showing time or humanity’s destructive impact on landmarks.
- Normal Things. These are the things we all experience or can relate to which make a setting real. It’s the sound of a crumpled brown paper towel, the hum of a vending machine, the chill of a hospital, sunlight streaming through window blinds, the sweetness of chocolate, etc. These everyday things help readers feel closer to a story.
What additional elements do you include in your world-building? What draws you to the type of books you like to read?
By Natasha Hanova