There are a couple of things I look for to help strengthen worldbuilding and build a level of immersion – because that’s what you want. Immersion. You want someone to “buy in” to the world you have made and care about what happens. You want it to create that suspension of disbelief that makes them worry about what will happen and who it will happen to, even though it’s entirely fictional.
And believe it or not, you don’t have to build out literally every aspect of the world to do it. In fact, I think that can take longer and make it harder to create an immersive experience. At least within a short window of time, as you’re dividing yourself over what could be an entire planet or galaxy. Not that it isn’t fun, of course. I’ve talked at length about how much fun worldbuilding can be when you get carried away.
Sometimes it takes a backseat to character & plot, but if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, half the fun is the fact that we are getting to explore a world unlike our own. So when the worldbuilding is neglected you can feel a little cheated. After some thinking, I came up with three ‘rules’ that I think help guide your worldbuilding and your writing to be stronger and more immersive.
I think this is where most worldbuilding falls flat, and that’s simply a lack of depth. I think it can also be the hardest to do. You have to consider the effects and consequences of everything you introduce. You can’t have a world where magic is common and not have it be a part of everyday life. Or if you do, there needs to be a reason. If there is no reason it feels like it was included because the creator willed it. You want it to feel organic, like there was no other way it could have ended up. One you can understand without it being spelt out for you.
To do this I ask myself why. I’ve already been over my worldbuilding process at least a hundred times at this point, but I take the biggest influences of the world and dig deep. Explore the effects it will have on the rest of the world. There is a reason why a certain thing is this way. Why they eat this meat and not that one. Why they raise their children in this particular way.
It’s also important to think about what it won’t allow. You’re not going to find people eating a bunch of fruit where the weather isn’t conducive to growing fruit trees. You won’t (or shouldn’t – I’ve read books that did otherwise) have mages casting magic out in the open in a city where magic is outlawed.
A fictional world will feel more real if there are details. It’s not just a tree, it’s a maple. It’s not just a chair, it’s made of carved wood with a silk cushion for a seat. You have to paint a picture, and the way to do that is with specificity. Not so much that you spend too much time describing a room and leaving nothing to the imagination. You want enough to make the reader feel grounded, and give them an impression of what it would look like without actually spelling it all out.
You can, of course, use a filter for this, like a character, or have a tone or mood in mind. Describing a room with soft, round pillows as rich in colour as ripe plums, with the warm spice of freshly brewed chai wafting through the air is going to seem inviting and create a cosy atmosphere. I don’t have to describe literally everything for it to do that
Now you might argue that it’s just setting – the details are just descriptions of different places, and not proper ‘worldbuilding’. And you’re not wrong. Describing the way a room looks hardly feels like you’re ‘building a world’, but good worldbuilding is what informs those details. They’re drinking tea to ward off the cold because it’s winter. They have luxurious seating because they happen to be wealthy or in a position of power. Details are not only going to make the world feel more immersive, but they’re usually more effective at communicating ideas by showing rather than simply telling.
This one is admittedly a lot of work, but it’s also my favourite. Probably because I’m absolute trash for lore. You don’t want to know how many hours I’ve spent on the wiki pages of big SFF series because it’s quite honestly shameful, but I always find it fascinating to read a fictional history.
This kind of has to do with the first point – Internal Logic. Why something exists the way it does, except, rather than being out of common sense or physical limitations, it’s the result of past experiences, changes in society or culture and government.
The impression that there was a past behind the world, and a reason for why things are they way they are goes a long way in making a fascinating and engaging world. Not to mention, the idea that you are only seeing a small slice of the pie makes you want to know and see more. It makes you want to know why. And the more you do learn, the more invested you become.
The more invested you are? That’s immersion, baby.
I’ll admit I hold my worldbuilding to a pretty high standard, and for some it just isn’t as important. And that’s fine. We all immerse ourselves in stories for different reasons, and for me the escapism of SFF is one of them. Which means I hold good worldbuilding on a higher pedestal than many would.
But if you’re like me, then maybe this post has given you some food for thought the next time you’re writing a story or enjoying a good book.
Let’s Talk About It!
Do you have any of your own rules for good worldbuilding? Do you agree with what I’ve got here? Think there are any that I’ve missed? Let’s chat in the comments!