On writers and their worldbuilding

This post first appeared on  my LJ blog on 21/7/2008
Worldbuilding for a novel is a funny business. Some worldbuilding is to make sure the plot works. Some of it is to make sure that the characters come from the place they are supposed to come from and go to the place they are supposed to go. A lot of it is to convince the reader that things are real and that they work. Today I realised, though, that just as much of it is to convince the writer.

My biggest single problem with invented worlds is when they don’t convince the writer and the whole novel feels like a game that hasn’t quite worked. By ‘invented worlds,’ I mean any background universe in which fiction is set. It could be New Ceres, or the Dune universe or Middle Earth, or it could be twenty-first century Canberra or 1950s Los Angeles. If the writer hasn’t convinced themselves that it has that depth and reality, then the lack of substance will communicate itself to the reader.

Sometimes I fear for writers. Some of my favourites always look as if they’re playing with danger; that any moment they may open doors into their strange realities and disappear forever. Sometimes I think that writers draw that same dangerous door with a scribble on a piece of paper, then add a big red sign pointing to the pencilled door and that big red sign says “Danger.” It’s a lot harder to believe when the door is obviously drawn on scrap paper with a pencil stub.

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