Lola’s Ramblings: What Makes for Good World Building?

Posted October 22, 2015 by Lola in Lola's Ramblings / 42 Comments


Lola’s Ramblings is a feature on my blog Lola’s Reviews where I ramble on about a book related or a non-book related topic. These are discussion type of posts where I talk about a topic and readers can weigh in on the topic in the comments. Usually these posts are everything that doesn’t fall under any standard header, like tours, cover reveals, memes, challenges, recaps or reviews. Lola’s Ramblings posts are discussions of a certain topic and my point of view on them. The banner for this feature is designed by Michelle from Limabean Designs.

If you follow this blog for a while you probably know that I love world building. Especially in books that take place in a different world this is very important to me. I love it when the world comes alive and I can imagine how things look there and how everything works. With world building I primarily mean a world different than our own, but also the pressence of paranormal creatures or sci-fi elements and how the author explains and describes those aspects. When I talk about books that take place on our own planet or world I often use the word setting in my review to describe how the author made the town or location come alive. In my opinion world building and setting are different, although they are also similiar in some ways. Today I’ll focus on world building.

What Makes for Good World Building in my opinion?

  • Details. I think details are one of the most simple and most important ways to create a world. Details can make the world feel more real and alive, they can fill in blanks and they can be interwoven into the story. The more details about a world or supernatural creature there are, the better the world building.
  • Able to imagine how the world looks. I want to be able to form an imagine in my head of how the world or the supernatural creatures looks. I want the world building to have enough details and descriptions so I am able to visualize it. I visualize everything when I am reading so when there aren’t enough details I can’t adequately visualize it and I find that annoying. Yes sometimes things can be mysterious, but in the end of a book or series I do want to form an imagine of the world or creatures or at least have part of an imagine.
  • Original. Sure you can have another planet or world that’s almost the same as ours, but in general I prefer worlds that are vastly different and original. I want to see a world with different rules and that’s different from what I’ve seen before. Although I am also a fan of urban fantasy books where the world might be common, but the paranormal or fantays aspects aren’t. That’s okay too. I like it when authors do things original or take a common concept or paranormal creature and add an original twist.
  • Show not tell. While I am not against an info dump or two, overal I think showing people the world works better than just telling them about it. If a character experiences the world and we learn more about it from what happens and we see around the character that leaves a better impression and I remember it better than one info dump explaianing how things work.
  • Subtle. I think good world building can be subtle and I think it’s often the subtle details that make a world come alive. It doesn’t always have to be vastly different from our world, sometimes subtle changes can work just as well. Many dystopia book for example use this, the world looks the same but it isn’t. Something happened and the world is differnet.
  • Rules of the world. To get a good feel for a new world I think knowing which rules apply to that world are very important. Like how does magic works? Which laws of physics are there? Which things are similar but different than here? What is who’s role in society? Is space travel possible? How does it work? And much more. And if there are rules everything and everyone has to follow those rules. I think getting a feel of how a world works and what the rules are is very important for forming an udnerstanding of the world. Another important one is not breaking your own world building rules. Nothing bothers me more if first we learn that A is never possible and then suddenly it turns out A is possible, due to a reasoning that doesn’t entirely make sense.
  • Makes Sense. This might be one of the more important ones. I want a world to make sense, to have the pieces fit together and everything works and fits. I want a world to make sense, not have plot holes in them. I want things fall on it’s place and not me pointing things out which don’t make sense. I want explanations for the unusual things that happen and not be left guessing.
  • Answers my questions/ enough information. With good world building my questions about the world are automatically answered by how the world works. I like to have little questions left about how the world works. If it’s a series I don’t mind waiting for the answers for a bit, but at the end of a book or series I want to have most of my questions answered. If I am left with too many questions, I feel like the author didn’t do a good enough job of world building.
  • History, Society and Politics. I think a good world building includes giving us a feel of history, society and politics. What happened in the past to get here? Why are things as they are now? How does the society works? What’s everyone’s role in this society? How do things work together? Who rules the planet or society and why? What are the relationships with other countries or planets? It depends on the book how important these individual aspects are, but I think giving an general feel and answer to each of these aspects helps a lot in giving a feel for the world.
  • Consistency. I think this one is very important too. Without consistency your world doesn’t make sense and being consistent in how you describe things or how things work is very important for good world building in my opinion.
  • Limitations. I think having limitations at what is possible can be vary valuable in world building, especially when it comes to magical powers and such. Like for example how often and how much magic use is possible, having limitations to what is possible makes things more believeable and more interesting.
  • Consequences. Another feature of good world building is that events need to have consequences. I also love magical system where using magic costs something or has a drawback. I think consequences is one of those things that make a world and story more believable.

I am very critical when it comes to world building and I hate it when I find flaws in world building or things don’t make sense. I like poking holes into plot lines or world building rules and will rarely praise a book for it’s world building. Having said that not everyone one of these aspects needs to be present to have me like the world building, but the more of these aspects there are present the more I will like the world building probably.
The biggest issue I have with world building is often when there aren’t enough details, the world doesn’t come alive or things don’t make sense. With the last one being the one to anoy me most. I rather have vague world building where the world doesn’t come alive than a world that doens’t make any sense. As long as an author can avoid those three things I usually will be okay with world building.

What do you think makes for good world building?


42 responses to “Lola’s Ramblings: What Makes for Good World Building?

  1. I like details but to many mundane details makes it boring. I used to read Anne Rice’s vampire books but had to stop because using three or four pages to describe a dress or the drapes or the scowl on a vampires face. lol World building is crucial but don’t be so descriptive that it takes away from the story and makes things boring.
    Mary Kirkland recently posted…FalcorMy Profile

    • Details or descriptions definitely can be overdone and bog down the pace if used too much. I don’t think you need four pages to describe a dress or the scenery, but I do think that details can give you a feel for the world as long as it isn’t overdone.

  2. Great topic, Lola! World building is important to me, too, Lola. Though I don’t think I’ve thought about it as much as you. For me it’s more of a feeling and when I don’t feel it I sometimes have trouble figuring it out. I like that you’ve really thought about it. I think I might use your categories in a checklist so when I feel the world building isn’t working I might have a chance of figuring it out…lol
    Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic recently posted…Trick or Treat Murder by Leslie MeierMy Profile

  3. I really like details too, Lola…it’s all in the details. πŸ˜€ I want to be able to picture everything as if I’m standing in the middle of that world. And if the author can paint pictures with words so that it’s like I’m watching a movie in my head, all the better. I don’t think I can add anything to your list…I completely agree with it. πŸ™‚ Great post and topic!
    Bookworm Brandee recently posted…That’s What HE Said #41 ~ Thirsty Thursday & Hungry Hearts #20My Profile

    • Well said, it’s all in the details! The details really help make you picture the world and feel I am in that world. I usually read a book as if I am watching a movie in my hea,d but the mroe details and descriptions the better I can picture it. Else the image might be vague or I make up things myself that might not have been mentioned just to fill up the image. Thanks Brandee!

  4. Love this topic. World building is so important to me when it comes to liking a book. And you’re so right, I want the author to show me the world they created. I don’t want an info dump of stuff I should know and I don’t want a disclaimer at the start of the book describing the world. I want to experience it as the characters do. Also, I want the author to make me believe it.
    Angela @Simply Angela recently posted…True Deceptions Veronica ForandMy Profile

    • Yes experiencing the world as the characters do is best. Although I guess there are a few instances where that isn’t possible. Having the author make me believe in the world or that it’s possible and makes sense is very important.

  5. World building is so tricky, but that’s a great list. I like details too, and for it to make sense. When I was younger I just accepted that fantasy in particular had a lot of info dump, but now that I’m older and (maybe) more sophisticated I prefer the subtler, I guess show don’t tell aspect of it- for info to come out gradually as the story progresses, rather than xplaining it allin 10 pages. LOL. Anyway great post!
    Greg recently posted…A Dance with Dragons- Daenerys II/ Reek IMy Profile

    • Thanks! I do think that many books and especially fantasy books do rely a lot on info dumps, I don’t always mind them as much, but I do prefer the more subtle ways of world building. It’s better if the world building is gradual and it’s easier to remember and comprehend the world that way.

  6. I love this topic. I’m a huge fan of world building. I agree with all of your points. I like details, but not a complete info dump. I tried to listen to a book one time and after listening for an hour and we were still taking about a house, I had to DNF. The house was for sale, so a real estate agent was going over everything with the potential buyer but you can’t do that with the first hour of a book and expect readers to stay interested. This author had a large following, so I’m sure some did, but I had to tap out.
    Melanie Simmons @mlsimmons recently posted…Menagerie Audiobook by Rachel Vincent (REVIEW)My Profile

    • World building is so important to me in a book. Listening for a while hour about a house sounds like it would get boring really fast. My worst example of an info dump was a book that started with an action scene and info dump at once it was horrible and I DNf’d the book right then. I rather have an action scene first and only after that get the info dump, an author has to hook me first and then I can handle an info dump, although ofcourse subtle interweaving the world building in the story is even better.

  7. And this is the reason I love to read sci-fi and fantasy. I count on the worldbuilding to carry me off to somewhere new and different. And when it doesn’t? I’m disappointed and bored. Like you, I visualize my stories. I want to know what the setting looks like, what the character looks like, but not so much that we have no action or dialogue. Show not tell, for sure!
    Sophia Rose recently posted…Treasured Lies by Kendall TalbotMy Profile

    • Yes telling can really slow down the pace and make the world building boring instead of exciting. I have read a few books with a small info dump interwoven well or in a conversational way so it feels like a less info dump. But books that start with explaning the whole world don’t work. I have to experience the world, not be told how it is.

  8. BASICALLY YES TO EVERYTHING ON THIS LIST. *nods* And I often feel like I rarely find books that even meet all these?! Like I was just reading an epic fantasy and, gah, it basically failed on eVERYTHING in the world-building aspect. And it’s so disappointing, because half the reason I love fantasy is to be sucked into new cultures and everything. But I guess it’s hard to world-build really well, without info dumps (because those are pretty sucky to read) so I do get why authors’ might struggle with it. It’s SO worth it to pull of an epic world though. (I also love magic systems that have very firm rules and make sense. xD)
    Cait @ Paper Fury recently posted…If I Covertly Sneaked Across The Globe And Kidnapped A Book Genie, Here Is What I’d Wish ForMy Profile

    • Same here there are very little books that have perfect world building, but there are also little books that I really hate for their world building if that makes sense? If a book doens’t do too badly I am okay with it, although it’s also rare that I really gush about the world building in a book.

      Part of the reason why I love fantasy and sci-fi and those kind of genres is because meeting new worlds and cultures and learning how things work there. I also see why sometimes info dumps can be handy ad how integrating everything in the story can be hard especially when writing the book, but if they suceed it’s definitely worth it.
      Lola recently posted…Lola’s Kitchen: Cinnamon Sugar Puff Pastry Twisters RecipeMy Profile

  9. This is all SO accurate! I feel the same way about all of these. I hate when I don’t know much about the world. Especially the history and customs and such- I need to know WHY things are the way they are, especially if the world is really unique. And I feel you with the questions thing- it can absolutely ruin a reading experience for me. Like, instead of being IN the book, my head just keeps nagging me with “but… WHY?”, and generally gets louder and louder. If it ends up unanswered… yikes πŸ˜‰ Fabulous post, I could not agree more!
    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight recently posted…Shuddersome Stories (and Other Halloweenish Things)My Profile

    • I feel like knowing the history and customs can really add to our understanding of the world as knowing how the world was shaped can be very informative and explain why things are the way they are.
      Same here if I starts the the “but.. Why” it feels like it get’s louder and louder and it just sort off adds up. I have read a few books where I just wrote down all those unanswered questions in the world building section, to explain what parts of the world building remained unclear.

  10. Great topic!
    Aspects of world building are the kind of things I don’t notice unless it has gone horribly wrong, because subtlety and showing instead of telling are really important for me. If a book is like ‘this is what it all looks like’, ‘these are the rules’, ‘this is how things work’, then I get bored really fast. As you say, experiencing it all through a character is the best way to incorporate world building, and to basically be shown around by someone whose environment it is seems more naturalistic than just being told all about it.
    Rules and limitations are another of the major ones for me. If there are no rules then all the problems could just be solved easily by magic and there would be no story!
    Laura recently posted…To NaNoWriMo or No?My Profile

    • Info dumps that tell you all about the world can get boring really fast. It’s best to experience things through a character and notice bit by bit how the world works. I often pay a lot of attention to the world building and how it’s done, although it has to go horribly wrong for me to really dislike the world building, most times I am okay with it, although I rarely give high praise as well.

  11. I find when world building is great that I don’t really think about it, it just feels right and even realistic. I believe it. When it’s bad it drives me crazy. A big thing for me is how it came about, I need to know this and I find a lot of dystopia books in particular never explain this. And showing not telling is always the best way to go.
    Trish @ Between My Lines recently posted…5 top things that make me buy a book!My Profile

    • That’s a great way to describe it, good world building feels right and realistic. I also have that issue with dystopia books either it doesn’t make sense how the world came to that point or in some cases it isn’t explained or the famous history lesson way to tell it. I think it is difficult to really do that part right in a dystopia.

  12. Red Iza

    Well, you said it all ! I’m all for the details, I want to be surprised, amazed and say to myself “wow, I’d never thought of that !”

    • Gradual is a good one to. It’s great when you learn about the world bit by bit and it’s easier to remember everything that way.

  13. I love novels set in places where world building is important, too, Lola! And I agree with you, I prefer show not tell, and it has to be subtle. I’m actually not sure I can take even one info-dump.. it stops the flow of the story completely, and then, my interest just might stop as well.
    And being able to imagine the world is definitely important to me, I create complex images in my head when I read, and it’s so much better than watching a movie! However, I need to be shown things in order to be able to do that.
    Great post, Lola!
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews recently posted…Review: Surviving Ice – K. A. TuckerMy Profile

    • I have read a few books with minor info dumps or where it sort of works. I guess I just enjoy learning about the world so much that in some cases I don’t mind an info dump. I do agree that most info dumps disrupt the pace and it’s less interesting than subtle world building.
      I agree reading is even better than watching a movie. I see the images in my head to and I like being to image vivildy how the world looks, if there aren’t enough details it’s either a vague image in my head or I think of detaisl myself. I prefer it is the book provides those details.

  14. That’s an excellent breakdown of what works and what’s important in world-building, Lola. And for the most part, all the really well-written worlds I can think of follow most or all of these guidelines: Middle-Earth. Dune. Pern. Temerant. Velgarth (with the exception of a few inconsistencies.) Darkover. From what I hear, the world of Brian Sanderson’s Mistborn series is also pretty amazing (he gets a lot of credit from fellow writers for his world-building, but I haven’t read any of his books yet.)
    Lark @ The Bookwyrm’s Hoard recently posted…News & Notes – 10/24/15My Profile

    • Thanks Lark! I don’t think I have read any of those worlds you mentioned. I have heard good things about Sanderson his Mistborn series in general and the world in specific as well, but not sure if it’s a series for me.

  15. Wow, this is really comprehensive and you’ve nailed every aspect of world building! It definitely needs to be detailed and provides enough consistency and answers enough questions so that you can really picture it in your head. I hate it when fantasy or dystopian books skim the world building – I mean this is what you’re supposed to excel at!
    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence recently posted…Indulgence Insider #41 – Co-Blogging & House HuntingMy Profile

    • Thanks! I agree that with fantasy and dytopia books I expect them to have good world building and it’s sad when you can’t picture or it doens’t make sense.

  16. This is such a well thought out post. I haven’t even considered some of these points but I agree to everything you said here. It is so tough to find a world with all this. Maybe you should make this an outline for writers, like a checklist for creating worlds. Great post Lola!

    • Thanks Karen! I sometimes overthink these things a bit, but I like analysing topics like this. It’s definitely tough to find a world that has all of these. There are little books where the world building is really awesome, but then again there also aren’t that many books which really fail in the world building department.

      And thank you for the idea! I could definitely make this into an outline or things to think about when developing your world type of post. I am starting a new feature aimed at authors next year, so this would fit right into that!

    • I definitely think that world building is just as important as a good plot and characters! I love getting to know a world and forming the picture of it in my head.

  17. Awesome post! I work hard to create a believable world in my series. And I try to balance the tell-me/show-me aspect, as well. I can see why many authors tell rather than show because it’s easier, but I agree that showing really brings the story to life. And details are super important! I may have used too many details in the first book, but it set the scene for the rest of the series. At least, I hope it did! πŸ™‚

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