M.D. Presley defines worldbuilding as both a verb and a noun in his practical and fascinating book, Worldbuilding for Fantasy Fans and Authors (a book that readers of fantasy will enjoy as much as writers). Of the two definitions, his take on worldbuilding as a noun interests me the most:
“. . . worldbuilding refers to an authentic sense of space and time, such that the setting feels like it exists independently of the story being told.”
Maybe you’ve felt before that sense that Middle Earth was real or you suspended disbelief so strongly it seemed as if Westeros was just over the sea. It seemed easy, the way those authors made you travel there.
Easy, that is, until you read a disappointing fantasy or science fiction novel where the world felt contrived to tell the story and solve the character’s problems or move the plot along.
How do some writers make it “authentic” and give a “sense of space and time” that “exists independently of the story”?
You might think it’s simply a matter of making maps, giving names to places, writing notes on local rulers and factions, coming up with climate and geography and economic notes for a place. Maybe the more notes, the thicker the reference book behind the world, the better. And perhaps there is some correlation between the work put in and the result that entrances the reader.
But it’s so much more than notes and notebooks.
The grandeur of Lothlorien and the genuineness of Winterfell are art more so than science. They touch deeper human longings, the same kind we find in the real world. They are “other” in relation to “what is.”
That’s what I’m searching for in this series on “How Worlds Are Built,” the elements that make us believe in and love fantasy worlds. I hope you’ll join me as my contemplations on the topic unfold.