Writers can use worldbuilding techniques to create unique settings.
Start With the Basics
There are several important aspects of setting to consider:
- Layout and geography
- What lies beyond the immediate setting
- Politics, laws, and governing system
- Culture and traditions
- Local plants and animals
- Jobs, economy, imports/exports
- History, enemies, and allies
- Folklore, urban legends, etc.
- Details only locals would know
- The hero’s feelings and opinions about the place
All of these elements will affect a character’s views, way of thinking, actions, choices, and lifestyle and may affect the path of a storyline.
One you have at least one item for each element in the list, consider how each one might affect the character or story, and whether that effect is beneficial and moves the story forward or if it simply adds another layer of richness.
These elements can be integrated into a setting as minor or major elements, depending on what the scene needs. Folklore may be relevant in a non-realistic storyline out a child who’s gone missing under mysterious circumstances, but only mentioned in passing in a realistic setting where adults reminisce about childhood fears. A mixture of major and minor elements give a setting depth and uniqueness.
Develop the Details
Details make the difference in worldbuilding, whether high fantasy or the corner coffee shop. The level of detail often depends on the genre. Unless the color of every mug in a coffee shop is relevant to the story, leave it out.
Developing an intricate system of magical spell-creation ot introducing a non-realistic world readers are not familiar with requires a higher level of detail so the reader can understand the process or place.
Details MUST be relevant, no matter the genre.
Let’s use food as an example to see how something relatively simple and easy to overlook can be an important detail in providing information about a character through setting.
What characters eat can indicate location, such as putting coleslaw on pulled pork sandwiches, which is common in the south but a strange combination in the southwest United States.). Food can reveal income, such as a character having a cupboard full of Ramen noodle packets or a collection of delicious wines in a built in wine fridge. Food could also inform the reader about personality quirks. If all the food in a character’s fridge is yellow, the reader will start considering why.
Irrelevant details have the potential of confusing readers because they cause them to look for hints or twists where there aren’t any. These can later appear to be plot holes or sloppy writing. Remember the advice that if you mention a gun in scene 1, it better be fired by someone by the end of the story!
Once you have the foundation of your setting and world and are starting to add details, do so in logical layers.
Consider a real-world worldbuilding example: Choose the city relevant to the story line>choose a professional that makes sense for the location and character>choose a neighborhood with access to amenities that will help progress the story>choose frequently visited locations that provide opportunities for conversations, action, or conflict>develop hobbies that allow for character growth>etc.
Now consider a paranormal worldbuilding example: Choose a mythology base>tweak the base to suit major plot points>develop main powers/beasts that provide conflict between two or more groups>develop rules for powers/beasts that keep winning from being too easy>develop goals for each opposing group>develop individual goals that clash with others’ goals of the group’s goals>develop individual power/beast uniqueness that needs to develop> etc.
In every genre there is a logical progression to worldbuilding and every element added should impact the characters and story in a meaningful way