Worldbuilding is part of any fictional story.
“But wait a minute,” you say. “What about contemporary stories? You know, those set in the world of today?”
Think about any fiction you have ever read. Even those that are as realistic and set in today’s world as anything out there. It’s not just fantasy or sci-fi books that need their worlds defined—contemporary novels also have an element of worldbuilding that must occur. That type of worldbuilding probably doesn’t involve creating new “races” of sentient creatures, or even new topographies. Instead, it needs a certain amount of building the readers’ expectations of the world with which they are about to spend time.
I’ll use Dan Brown’s novels as an example. Mostly because I’ve listened to them and have read many people used his writing to track historical figures and events across the globe. In my opinion, his books are as close to “real world” as anything I’ve read. But he still has a certain amount of “worldbuilding” that must be captured. Much of the “worldbuilding” is how his world is stitched together. He does an excellent job with character depth, and I like how his main characters step outside the conventional worldview and make a case for an unconventional conclusion. He also ties seemingly unrelated events together in a way that makes me think his fiction could have a measure of truth. Brown compacts his characters’ worldviews and distills their dispositions into short timespans, packing in a lot of action that leaves a reader breathless. Even when I think I have figured it all out, he has a way of throwing in a surprise. It always has me re-reading the book for clues to the twist—and he delivers.
Dan Brown is at one end of the worldbuilding spectrum, JRR Tolkien is at the other.
Many of us who cut our reading teeth on fantasy, fell in love with Tolkien at a young age. I was about ten or eleven when I discovered The Hobbit. I read that book a time or two before I found The Lord of the Rings, and my love for fantasy was sealed. I had already been introduced to the realms of sci-fi by Robert A. Heinlein and Podkayne of Mars. After I found that one, I read all of Heinlein’s juvenile sci-fi series.
Then came the moon landing, and my brother and I would play “astronaut” under the kitchen table. Scenes ran through my head while we played pretend. I never wrote them down, I’m not sure it occurred to me back then. But my siblings and I imagined ourselves as a myriad of beings and characters from cartoons and TV shows we watched.
I have always had a fertile imagination. But life took me in a completely different direction. I began using the logical portion of my brain, and my imaginative side was suppressed for a very long time. I practically quit reading for several years—something I never thought would happen in my life.
Then I met First Reader, and she helped me realize that I suffer from depression. Once we got that condition treated, I began to re-discover that spark of imagination that had propelled me in my early life. Not only did I pick up audiobooks, but I also started writing again. Now, I make time to read, not as much as I should, but more than I have in years.
I have several stories whirling around in my head. Their clamoring keeps getting louder, so we’ll see which one is the most emphatic and gets out first (I think I know which one that will be, but we’ll see). Most stories center around characters and a “what if” situation, sometimes that “what if” situation needs a conclusion. Right now, I’m struggling with the dreaded Procrastination Monster, but changes are on the way. In the meantime, I’ll continue building my world, getting the main parts noted in my working files.
How about you? How much time do you spend building the world in which your story is set?