Worldbuilding is essential for any novel – not just fantasy stories.
A writer has to understand the world in which their story and characters are set, be it an imaginary world or historical London or contemporary Sahara desert.
That demands a lot of research, work and definition. Not all of it will make it into the finished book – in fact, it’s essential that it doesn’t. Why? Because it’ll stall the plot to dump too much information on the reader.
But it’s also necessary for another reason – richness of world. The best stories use only a fraction of what the author has researched or developed, but the fact that the author has researched or developed them shows through. It adds a subtle dimension to the story, because the reader picks up the feel that there is so much more there than the bare bones of a scene or setting.
Just like the real world.
One of the masters of the technique has always been J R R Tolkien, whose Middle Earth setting was a rich tapestry of invented languages, landscapes, a deep history and complex peoples, each with their own legendarium. There was plenty of that material in The Lord Of The Rings – but that, still, was but a tiny fraction of what he had developed, and which he continued to develop.
For Tolkien, of course, the exercise wasn’t novel-writing so much as legend-creation, which demanded that rich world. But the principle is clear enough.
All of which points to the fact that in order to write a really compelling novel or story, the writer needs to have done an awful lot of work before the first words of the expected story are written.
That, for instance, is why I did so much development into the world for my novella “Missionary”, published recently by Endless Worlds Publications in their first Endless Worlds anthology. I created a far more complex world – including doing the mathematics of spaceship design – than was strictly necessary for a 10,000 word story. But I thought it was essential.
And, of course, there’s the spinoff benefit, which I can sum up in one word. Sequel.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015