There is nothing that fascinates me more about books than the fantastic worlds within them. The ability to create worlds that their readers not only enjoy but believe. Believe so deeply that they leave their own bodies behind to travel its roads. This no easy task, and countless fantasy and Sci-Fi authors have gained worldwide renown on their worldbuilding skills alone. This is why fantasy stories will always hold a special place in my heart. I can often be found sitting cross legged in the middle of my local library’s fiction setting, devouring not only devouring the canonical books in a series but every forward, accompanying book, every article that I can on that author’s world.
Even though worldbuilding shines in stories of strange and alien worlds, the craft can extend to stories who borrow more familiar roots. At its basest form, the term can refer to the creation of any fictional world. That means High fantasy, low fantasy, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and everything in between. Authors who write contemporary fiction will typically spend less time on their worlds, because they don’t have to create anything from scratch. However, preparation and research time aside, I would argue that they have just a hard a job as fantasy writers. Or, perhaps, an even harder one.
Hear me out. An author who writes about some alien world or time period can make some “mistakes.” Fantasy readers are sticklers for complete worlds, but an author can easily explain something that sounds a bit off by mentioning that the protagonist’s culture is very different from ours or the laws of gravity apply differently in their world or scientists have finally come up with a cure for death. A story set in a familiar world and populated with a familiar host of characters has to follow a strict set of pre-determined rules. You don’t pick up a non-fantasy book to read a story about a group of unrelatable characters. You want something entirely real, something that, given the right circumstances, you could experience yourself. That’s a lot of pressure.
If the author deviates too far from these rules- if the protagonist’s world does not match up with our understanding of this world – then it just doesn’t work. They have to build the protagonist’s world piece by piece in such a way to create the same feeling of a “suspense of life” as others authors do, but they have a less forgiving audience. If that doesn’t make you look twice at your favorite non-fantasy book, I don’t know what will.