Why yes, I am in a ‘Bond, James Bond’ kind of mood… how did you know? My eager anticipation of Skyfall and Daniel Craig aside, sometimes even building the best, most over-the-top world isn’t enough for the reader to escape into the story.
As a reader, I want a clear sense of the world, but I want a clear, concise vision of how the characters react to and interact within that world.
When a character enters into a new place or adventure, no matter the genre of the novel, their observations give the author a great opportunity to share striking and pertinent details within the new ‘world’. As they engage other characters, the reader learns the framework of the setting right alongside the character.
But building the world is not enough in situations other than that ‘fish out of water’ syndrome – when a character is thrust into a new place or circumstance completely foreign to them.
Most characters are familiar with at least part of the story world, so it can feel stilted or contrived to have them describe every last detail just for the reader’s benefit. (author intrusion, anyone?)
What fascinates me as a reader, is watching how the character’s perception of a familiar world changes as they deal with the new challenges and antagonists particular to the story or adventure.
An oversimplified example for sure, but consider how being in love changes your perception of any event. Something terrible can happen, but having your beloved with you eases the pain or drama. Conversely something delightful can happen and the joy is increased when your beloved is close, muted if you’re apart.
World building is vital to telling a great story and details big and small make that world come alive for the reader. But don’t forget to build in character perception of your fabulous world so the reader can savor the full experience.