Depth of Field

This is about worldbuilding. Primarily useful for fantasy or sf novels, worldbuilding is the process of creating and detailing a world or situation for the characters to move about in. However, the following also applies to the amount of research you do on a historical time, or even your current time and place for more contemporary novels. It can apply to any setting.

It’s my contention that the writer should know much more about the world he builds than ever really reaches the story. Now, you might say that’s wasted work, but for many reasons, I don’t think it is.

The main reason is that it gives the story itself a powerful depth and strength. The difference between fantasy and high fantasy is whether the world itself can be considered a character, or is deeply affected by the action of the tale. Now, the ‘world’ here can be the land, the culture, the political situation, not just the rocks and trees. If you have done enough creation or research to really know how things work, it will give the story depth, even if all those details don’t make it into the text. And they probably shouldn’t. It’s very tempting, if you’ve gone to great lengths to make sure the religious systems have a long detailed history, and the political situation has a background spanning years, to want to shove all that in there someplace. But don’t just put it in as a huge infodump; that will lose the reader entirely. It will show in the deep, burnished gleam the story has, don’t worry.

Besides, when you become hugely famous and readers are clamoring to know more about the worlds you’ve created, you can edit your notes and publish them as a concordance.

Also, doing more research or worldbuilding than necessary can lead to further novels. You might need the far continent you put together on the other side of the planet for a different but related story. You might need the political history for a prequel. It will make future stories written in the same world much more coherent with the first.

So do the research–whether it involves looking things up, or building it yourself. It’s worth it!


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