The Importance of World Building

A Better Understanding for Your Reading Experience

My Dear Fellow Readers,

I’m always pondering about what the writer’s intentions and thoughts are when creating a story. How the readers’ perceptions vary and if they’re what the author is conveying. As an avid reader and one who reviews books, there are themes and elements to the story that I feel make the story equally come to life. The core of a believable story is world building and realistic characterization, in my opinion. These ingredients combined help drive the plot, the character’s movements, motives, and pull the reader in.

I believe contrasts in world building are an important structure for stories to work. For example: The key setting or location, if you will, of the story and how it is described. The contrast would be another location shown in a different light all together. What distinguishes one place to another? Readers want to feel transported to time and place. Tone, mood, senses and atmospheric surroundings is key. Even down to the little details, such as a table, how it looks and how it’s positioned in a room. The juxtaposition of the furniture, if you will. Landscape is another element that needs contrast, which plays a role in how and where the characters feel the most vulnerable or the safest. Is it daylight, nighttime or is the weather cold, warm, dry or rainy? Does the writer include these details at all?

I remember this one book I read where a scene took place out to sea. The way the writer described the swaying ship sailing along the water surface with the waves crashing against the sides of the ship, the spray of water on their faces and the smell of the salty air. It was as if I was standing on the deck, experiencing the elements myself. What an experience!

On the other hand, I’ve read stories that took place in the 18th century and you would have a young family member of a great house sneak in the kitchen to speak to the cook or to grab what food they could muster, and you didn’t have a sense for the 18th century kitchen life.There is a vast difference between the 18th century kitchen and the 21st century kitchen. Modern readers need to experience that through writer’s historical stories. Imagine a 18th century great house with the a kitchen bustling with activity and observing the sounds and sights of people moving to and throw. The kitchen servants preparing food to be cooked by fire or coal. Kitchens in the 18th century were not a place of luxury and you didn’t have family members entertaining at the kitchen table. Those rooms were usually dark, hot and prone to catch on fire. These kitchens were situated as far as possible from the families social and private spaces. For instance, in the 19th century, many homes in America, particularly in the south, built their kitchens in a separate building out back because the danger of fires. Not only that but the servants day started before sun up and didn’t end until late in the night, then their day started again shorty after that. Pay attention to those details.

Social and cultural elements are equally important in regards to contrasts in world building. Readers must learn something from the character’s social standing, beliefs, traditions, life experience that is good or bad, their surroundings and manner of speech that is in contrast or similar to theirs. The list goes on…

Questions to think about when reading/reviewing a story: Were you transported to time and place? Can you picture the scene in your mind’s eye? Can you visualize the characters movements and imagine their senses as if they were your own? Did you make a connection? What have you learned from them and how did they impact you? If you can answer yes to all these questions and feel impacted positively by the story, then that is a sign of a great read. I admire authors who take their world building seriously.

There’re innumerable ways writers create their worlds. Many writers map out their world before beginning to write their story. I’m always curious about other writers’ methods and what works for them. Especially, with the social structure in certain walks of life that is not their own. I also believe there is a fine balance with world building. I’ve read books where the writer got bogged down by the characters’ surroundings, that the plot was lost in the world being created.

A short list of books I enjoyed with remarkable world building:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Good Time Coming by C.S. Harris

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

Dune by Frank Herbert

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My wish for newbie book reviewers is to be inspired by these observations, the list of books I provided and to have a better understanding how stories should work.

Regards,

Stephanie Hopkins

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