Alright, so this is a tough one, and I don’t claim this to be an all-encompassing guide to creating an immersive world, but perhaps some of what I say will be useful in your writing. After all, it can’t hurt to get other people’s opinions! On that, feel free to get in touch and share your own thoughts on this topic — I love the conversations!
So, you’ve got a really cool world which you are dying to share with thousands of readers; maybe it’s the next Middle-Earth, completely different to our own, or maybe it’s a Hogwarts, only a step away from our reality. Whatever it is, it’s incredible and one you are sure people will fall in love with it, but the feedback you get from your friends, family, editors, or readers tells another story and now you’re left wondering why. Let’s explore that, and see what we can do about it.
1. Know your style
One of the first things you can do to help make your world-building more exciting and immersive is to know which kind of world-building will suit your work best. Generally speaking people refer to these as soft world-building and hard world-building, although I like to think of them more like ends of a scale rather than two hard-set groups. There are countless posts on the distinction between the two, and even more opinions, but my personal favourite comes in the form of a video essay by Hello Future Me.
2. Don’t overbuild
It’s so hard to avoid falling into this trap, I’ve done it loads, and although some authors still do this they are often writers of expansive fantasy and sci-fi where the world is really a big part of the story. People like Sanderson have entire worlds and magic systems (I’ll cover those in another post) to teach you so you can follow the story well, but if you’re writing an urban fantasy, or maybe a YA dystopia which is just our world plus one you’ll likely need a softer touch.
This can come in many forms, and like with many things in writing and creativity it is subjective to your work and what you want it to do and say. The general idea is to find a way to break this world-building up into smaller pieces and chop them into the narrative; whether that be in the dialogue (more info in this post), the descriptions of places and people, or the characters themselves.
3. Character design
Often the best way to make a world immersive is to design a really exciting and fun set of characters. Think of some of your favourite worlds, one of which I’m sure will be Middle-Earth. The Hobbit takes very little time to get you loving Bilbo and Gandalf, and once you care about them they’re able to deliver some crucial exposition which teaches you about their world. The same is true for Lord of the Rings and a host of other well-loved stories.
Think about how your character is affected by the world they live in, about what their status says about them, and about how other people will interact with them because of it. Maybe this dystopia has social classes and your protagonist is born in the highest class, are they likely to care about those in the lower classes? If so, why? Just knowing that will allow you to open your world up in a more natural feeling way and warm us to these characters.
4. Use perspectives
This ties into my second point, but I think it is worth separating. Use different perspectives to help explain what is happening in the world. A great example comes from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga. We begin with Pug, an orphan struggling to be apprenticed, but quickly the narrative expands so we get to see the world through the eyes of princes, singers, magicians, soldiers, pirates and a heck of a lot more. The way he switches between perspectives to give you an interesting narrative while building an immersive world is great and worth looking at a little more, especially for fantasy writers!
5. Take a break
This is less of a tip on how to write exactly, and more a general bit of advice, but it is always worth taking a break from your work between drafts. Generally speaking I like to have two projects in the works at one; one which I am editing and one which I am writing, doing so allows me to cleanse my mind a little and retain objectivity (somewhat) so I can edit and write to a better standard.
Generally speaking I think it is worth taking the opportunity of a break from your project to send it to friends, family and fellow writers and ask for honest opinions. I’ve had lots of things picked up by people I trust which I’d never have considered because my image of the story and world is so complete that I just fill in the gaps subconsciously. I do think it is worth making notes of opinions and feedback and seeing if anything comes up more than once. If it does it may be worth a rewrite or an edit with that in mind.
Ultimately world-building is a hard thing to do well and often an easy thing to do poorly, and it is all subjective. I tend to think framing is half of the battle (same as with exposition, the two are closely related), and things like well-placed humour, loveable characters, and bouncing perspectives can really help you shape the narrative and paint a more vivid and immersive picture of your world.
Hopefully something in this has been helpful, and if there is anything I’ve got wrong or missed off, don’t hesitate to get in touch — I do love the conversations I’ve been having, and points which I may have missed will make it onto an update to either this or one of my other posts. If you do want someone to give your work a look and throw some general feedback and opinions back, I’m more than happy to help!
For more posts about writing, check out my blog page, and for information on my own work head on over to projects. Feel free to leave a comment or like below, or to get in touch in your preferred method — all of which is on my contact page!
World-building: Full Immersion!Tweet
I’m not on Facebook, but I think, no matter the platform, there is always an interesting conversation to be had,…
My idea of social media is Word Press where i can converse with like minded people. My personal idea of…
I agree, and maybe someday I’ll find one. Thanks for your encouraging words. 🙂
Having a writing group is something I would recommend to every writer, it’s a great way to learn and grow,…
I couldn’t agree more with the things you’ve pointed out. And recently, I had my first opportunity to help someone…
Join the Journey!
Get in touch!